Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Day After


I’ve learned a lot of lessons these past several years — lessons that have helped me cope in very difficult, scary and painful times.

Among those lessons is to accept what is, which does not mean we have to like it. But if we do not accept circumstances as they are, we stay stuck and frustrated. Once we accept what is, we can begin to move forward.

I’ve also learned not to get too far ahead of myself by imagining disaster when things do not turn out as I wanted or expected. I bring myself back to the present, knowing that none of us knows what tomorrow will bring.

There is always hope.

I’ve also learned that I have more peace when I let go of expectations. To do the best I can do, to choose my actions and how I will respond to life. We control little in life. But we do get to choose how to respond.

I often think of a quote by the Dalai Lama when things don’t turn out as I have hoped:

“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”

In that, who is to say that Hillary Clinton will not go on to do far greater things in this life than anything she could have done as president of the United States?

And with that, who is to say Donald Trump, as one CNN analyst said last night, won’t rise to the occasion and be a better president than everyone expects?

I do not believe things “happen for a reason,” that there is some predetermined outcome regardless of our efforts. Maybe Hillary believes that, as so many do, and if she does I hope that gives her great comfort and peace at this time of disappointment and grief.

I do know the universe functions far beyond anything we control. We hopefully do our best. The universe answers and then we get to respond.

I thought Hillary made a beautiful speech this morning. She showed her supporters: It’s going to be okay. 

I hope Trump will agree to work with her because it will go a long way to mending our nation and he’ll need a lot of guidance.

I also hope he will rise to the occasion, calm his rhetoric, take this incredible opportunity to do great things, behave with dignity and respect and deepen his knowledge of our nation and the world while surrounding himself with wise advisors that he will listen to.

One thing is clear, many people in this country have not felt they’ve been heard. Often people just need to feel seen and heard to begin healing.

I don’t believe it is the end of the world. As President Obama so very wisely said today: Stay encouraged, don’t get cynical.

So who knows? I choose to be hopeful.

Maybe it will all be okay. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. And if it’s not okay, we can to choose how we respond.

Again and again and again.


NOTE: For interactive NYT map, pictured above, go here: http://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/president

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Missing My Friend

 

Today, especially, I am reminded of how fragile and unpredictable life is.

A friend from graduate school, a beautiful, kind, sweet, intelligent journalist, died a couple of nights ago. I saw a post from a classmate and then saw her husband shared the news from her FB page. She was unconscious since Tuesday after a completely unexpected braid bleed. He said she never awoke and died peacefully surrounded by family and friends. For that I'm thankful. I can't imagine what this is like for her husband and family. I'm so so sorry for their loss.

I'm also sorry for my loss. Donna was not someone I was especially close to during grad school. I got to know her better over the last decade when I chatted with her at the last two reunions in NYC. She was so down to earth and sweet. Just lovely.

She was especially kind to me in 2015 when we sat together at lunch and, as you do, we talked about our lives in recent years. I'd lost both of my parents, a young cousin, a beloved aunt, beloved pets, all within just a couple of years. I'd also had to file a lawsuit against a bullying neighbor who thought he could take advantage of me when I was down.

I was feeling pretty vulnerable but healing and moving forward. Donna listened. Really listened. And after the reunion she took the time to write me an incredibly kind and encouraging note. It was so uplifting yet validating of what I'd been through. She seemed to truly get where I was and what I needed to hear — not everyone does.

We stayed in touch. We got together when I was in LA last March. We had dinner with her husband Ben. I felt like Donna had a really nice time. She even suggested a couple more times we could get together before I left.

We just connected. We had things in common.

She talked of wanting to come to Detroit to visit in the near future and I said I'd be happy to show them around. I encouraged her to attend a conference in LA in August. We were hoping to get together again then. She offered to make time to grab a bite to eat or a drink near LAX right before my red eye flight. Just to get together once more. I was really touched by that and was so sorry I couldn't make it work.

But I was incredibly thankful for this lovely new friendship we seemed to be forging, as people do when they reconnect through the years, when common experiences bring new connections with old friends.

I feel such a loss.

Thank God she suffered no pain. I'm glad she was surrounded by those she loved. She seemed happy and content with her life. Why it happened? There are no answers and life is not fair.

And so I'm reminded how fragile life is, how unpredictable. So show those you love your love and tell them often.

(Image with group including Donna from 2015 reunion in front of Columbia University's J-school. Donna is the lovely brunette on the far right.)

Friday, March 11, 2016

My Boy




I never had a sufficient name for him. No matter I guess.

I gave him a good home.

And still, I suffer. I struggle with what I could have done. What I didn’t do to protect him.

Mr. Gray Tabby was part of a family of feral cats that invaded my mother’s barn about seven years ago. It was too much to handle. We kept finding kittens and would try to find homes but we knew something had to be done. We needed help.

I found a woman, Darlene, with feral cat experience. By March 2010 we trapped them all eventually, more than a dozen cats that had made our home their home.

Part of the trap neuter plan is release, called TNR. When the time came, Darlene said the best place for them was back in the barn.

“It’s their home,” she said simply.

Of course it was. I hadn’t really thought of it that way. But they were a family. They knew and trusted each other.

I protested at first, mainly because around this time I’d been getting deeper into helping my parents who’d begun to have some health issues; I didn’t think I needed the extra stress and responsibility of taking care of a slew of outdoor cats if there was a sanctuary.

There was one, she said, but cautioned: “They may not stay. They’ll want to go home."

That touched me. Deeply. But what really convinced me to keep them was this: If she took them away, it could create the very vacuum they had filled. In other words, I could be allowing for the very problem again I'd just solved, with much stress to myself. To keep them would also allow them to defend their home against any newcomers.

And so, I — a lifelong animal lover — decided to let them stay. It was more work, but I loved them all. And the barn was their home. The yard and the woods, their outdoor space.

There was the gray tabby, Mr. Gray Tabby, with silky cashmere like hair; a big brown male tabby who quickly disappeared; two big fluffy gray males I dubbed Buddha One and Buddha Two though one of those disappeared as well; two small gray fluffy females, both gone, one sweet girl I’d come to adore disappeared in late 2012, the other after I had to put her to sleep when she got horribly sick with parasites three years ago this April; the Siamese female which had been around the longest and which my mom had spayed and called Blondie; another short haired gray and a lanky female brown tabby, both of whom also disappeared eventually; two brown female tabbies, one with white toes, who are still around; and two mature kittens, both tabbies, one female that I still have and one that Darlene kept to try to tame but eventually brought back to the barn and even he disappeared one day.

For the past few years, it’s been a steady family of five. Mr. Gray Tabby, I’ll admit, was my favorite. He had beautiful affectionate green eyes that softened when he greeted me at feeding time; he enjoyed letting me pet and scratch him. Besides the more tame Siamese, Blondie, he was the friendliest.

My time with these cats was the few minutes I fed them and sometimes I’d sit longer and enjoy watching them. Sometimes it was like a meditation, listening to them eat, just sitting silently and being there. 

But that was it. And I suspect they were fine with that. They appreciated their refuge, the heat lamp I put in in the winter, the scratching post they could perch upon, boxes to hide in and cozy pads to sleep on.

When I’d see them outside, they didn’t come up to me too much. They were more attached to each other, as feral cats are.


I accepted that. I even accepted the risk that something could happen to them. Cat fights with other cats that I never saw but were around. Dogs, raccoons. Parasites. Toxins. And always, always, the dreaded dirt road where cars raced faster and faster each year.

I even stopped throwing bread for the birds, which the cats loved to inspect, in the front yard because I didn’t want them getting used to associating food with anywhere near the road.

Every now and then when I'd go to do the daily feed — fresh water, dry food plus two cans of wet food, and sometimes scraps of meat that they gobbled up — I'd notice when one was not around. I never took for granted that they would for sure be back. And I always breathed a sigh of relief when I saw them the next day.

Around February 21 or 22, I didn’t see Mr. Gray Tabby. I worried but hoped he’d be there the next day. He wasn’t. By the third day I knew something was wrong.  

And then it snowed. Maybe he’s under someone’s deck. Maybe they have terrific garbage, I told myself. Maybe he stepped on melting ice before the snow, when the spring was peeking through, and drowned?

I reached out to Darlene, who asked if I’d been calling to him.

I didn’t really see the need because he was so independent. If he could come to me, he’d be coming to the barn. I looked around the barn. I looked for footprints in the snow. Though it seemed fruitless, I looked and called to him a little ways into the woods. I looked under the deck and in the front yard near the road but not along the road.

It seemed like I was looking for a needle in a haystack. I just prayed he’d come home.

Then last Monday, I saw something in the muddy road, the weather warmer after a couple of snowfalls in the previous two weeks. The plows having been down the road at least a couple of days to clear the snow.

It was him.

Strangely, it flickered through my head: maybe it’s a gift to know where he is. Some closure.

At the same time, I felt sick yet numb. No. Please not him.

And why now? Why after six years of being safe. I’d even been making plans to fix things up in the barn, which by now belonged to me. My home. My cats.

My boy.

My boy’s beautiful gray hair and back feet were matted with mud. I didn’t know what else I was looking at. It was only half of his body, some of his inner organs outside now.

I stood in the muddy road, silently hating the cars that passed by as I waited for a chance to put my hands inside a large plastic bag and lift my boy to carry him up to the yard until we could bury him the next day.

What happened? Was he struck by a car? If so I pray he died immediately. No suffering. Please God, no suffering.

Did an animal get him, try to eat him? Was he hit by a car, then preyed on by an animal? I almost wish I’d found him in the woods, attacked by an animal. At least that is nature. I hate the cars.

I'm asking less today but I still want to know: Why?

My boy. Why didn’t you wait for me? I had just gotten so many things settled in my life. I was looking forward to being there more. Seeing you more.

I loved you.

But I tell myself, he was never really mine. I just gave him refuge. I know that was a lot. Maybe for him it was everything. I’m trying not to suffer. I’m trying not to blame myself. 

He had a good life.

Still.

I miss my boy.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

I Am the Two Percent




Today I am the two percent. 

The older I get the more I want to live in that two percent. 

I'm fond of this saying that's often attributed to Mark Twain, apparently incorrectly but brilliant nonetheless: 

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the things you did do." 

In fact, this saying haunts me.  

I'm an anxious person by nature. I used to be embarrassed by this but I've learned I'm hardly alone. In fact, I've done more outside my comfort zone that I give myself credit for. 

Years ago I traveled to and around Australia for two and half weeks by myself with only one friend living in Sydney. That gave me some sense of comfort I guess. Today I marvel that I did that on my own.

As a young competitive figure skater, I went out in front of crowds of people to perform my program despite shaking legs and weeks of nausea in anticipation of the competitions.

I gave my mom a kidney. I signed up for an acting class. I’ve done public speaking.

Today, I auditioned for a spoken word show.

I wanted to do it. And I didn’t want to do it because it was uncomfortable.

It’s been on my calendar since last year. It always seemed so far away. And then it was here. I started getting emails about auditions.

And I didn't sign up. I didn't prepare. I kept putting it off.

I was in the 98 percent: A procrastinator. Living in fear. Staying in my comfort zone.

And that is what haunted me. What always haunts me. Because I cannot hide from myself.

We all have fears. Many we share. Others are very personal. For me, I don’t care if I never jump out of an airplane or run a marathon.

But I know when something stirs my soul it’s something I have to do or at least explore.

I’m a writer. I tell stories. And that often requires me to push through my perfectionism, my fear of being rejected. My mind goes to scary places. What if I fail? What if I panic or faint?

And so I held back. Waiting until it felt right. 

But it’s never right.

I was nudged recently by friend who did this show last year and knew I wanted to do it. I suspect I would have signed up anyway but a little nudge now and then done in love never hurts.

I took a closer look at the audition dates and locations. As of yesterday, I still had not signed up. But today was the best location. There was only one time. 9 a.m. The very first slot.

I could have easily put it off for another week. But I knew the sick feeling in my stomach, the cloud of fear and dread would hang over me that much longer if I didn't just get it over with.

I hesitated. And then I said to myself: Just do it. What is the worst thing that can happen? 

So less than 24 hours before my audition, I had crafted something I was comfortable with. Was it perfect? Would it ever be perfect?

And then I signed up.

Strangely I felt calm.

I had let go.

What happens beyond my showing up and reading my part is not my business.

All I can do is do my best then let go. Every day. 

That is what I did today.

I am the two percent.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Meant To Meet


I’ve had people tell me more and more lately that maybe they were meant to meet me.

Once was last July at the sentencing of Dr. Farid Fata, the Michigan oncologist now in federal prison after diagnosing and treating people who never had cancer or would never benefit from it, all so he could line his pockets.

One former patient at the proceedings tearfully told me how she was struggling to accept what this doctor had done and how guilty she felt letting it happen to her. I told her my story, how even my father, a doctor, and I, an extremely well versed and vigilant caregiver, were duped. That gave her something, a modicum of peace that she was not to blame. It was what she needed to hear. She said maybe I was why she had come this day, to meet me, to hear this.

It happened again last night. I was at the mall to fix my broken phone and a woman with two teen daughters was sitting next to me. The help desk was crowded. She’d been waiting over an hour already. So we began to chat.

Somehow I learned her father was in the hospital. I realized it might be too personal but I asked gently if he was having surgery or something was more serious? He has cancer. Lung cancer. Stage four. It’s gone to his brain. They discovered it when he went to his doctor for some dizzy spells.

I told her I was sorry. I told her I understood. She asked about my story, which is not easy to share in few sentences, so I did my best to tell her what would help her. I told her about my father’s cancer, my father’s overtreatment by Dr. Fata, my mother’s unrelated but simultaneous health issues that kept me running between them and their hospitalizations and appointments for about three years.

She seemed to want to soak up what I said. She related. Her mother has health issues and she’s now worried about her. She said they are transferring her father to a better hospital, that he’s already starting radiation to see if they can shrink the tumors in his brain. It sounded grim.

And then our names came up for service and we sat beside each other, our banter now about technology.

When she was ready to go, she thanked me and said: “I think I was supposed to meet you.”

Before she left, maybe because she said that to me, I wanted to offer her a few things I learned, and wish I’d known sooner, about caring for your parents, dealing with terminal illnesses, responding to those we love with love when they are sick.

I said be there for your father and don’t assume aggressive chemo is the answer if he’s so sick and not for sure getting better. I said stage four is terminal, not to be negative but it’s something you need to know. I said to look into palliative care early, and that may entail the scary word hospice, but try not to let it scare you. 

She understood, she said. Let him live with what strength he has, not with poisons pumping into his body if all he has is a certain amount of time. Yes.

Be kind and loving, I told her. She said he’s been a bit mean, mostly to her mom. I said don’t take it personally. Never take it personally. He’s angry at himself, his body, his weakness. And he’s scared. And he is taking it out on those closest to him. Find peace knowing it’s not about you.

Be his advocate, go to his appointments, I said. He needs someone who can think straight because he won’t be able to. 

And live very presently. In the moment. Because the moments will soon be gone, for all of us someday. Just be there for him and with him. Be his daughter. He'll need his daughter.

And I offered her something I learned recently from a man whose wife had stage four breast cancer. Their fear of the future could overwhelm them but their wise doctor would say: “No one is dying today.” I loved that. I told her to remember that. And why it’s important to live one day at a time.

Her eyes welled up with tears and I wondered, did I say too much? But I knew I told her these hard truths in kindness and she'd listened. She hugged me as she left and I wished her luck.

I don’t know if I was there for her to meet me. I’m not sure I believe in that.

What I do believe is that most people around us are connections just waiting to happen. I talk to others and they open up to me. Maybe because I’m kind. Maybe because I’m compassionate. Maybe because I like to connect. This happens to me often.

I think we are all just a few words or questions away from connecting and learning from each other in ways that can make life a little easier, a little more bearable.

I hope I helped this woman, whose name I never got. 

Was I meant to be there for her? Maybe I'm the one who needed to meet her.

I don’t know. But I’m thankful we connected.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Acting: It Ain't for Sissies


I saw an article today in the Atlantic about how people are using improv to counter anxiety. It stirred up my memories of my experience.

Some years back I saw a listing for an intro to acting class at the local community house. I wanted so badly to sign up but was too afraid. I finally made myself call the last day before the class started. Of course I was hoping it was full and I could tell myself: Well, I tried. But there was space. Dammit. I signed up and attended with equal parts dread and excitement.

It was not a comedy class but we did do a number or improv type exercises. I loved them. You had to think on your feet and use your whole self in the moment to respond to directions from the teacher: Riding on a bus, you're freezing cold, then you're sweltering hot. Another: you had to perform a routine task with the class having to be able to tell what it was (I took vegetables from the fridge and made a salad, chopping away very convincingly, I was told, I am sure because I allowed myself to get lost in the moment). 

We did characters, like a Bronx New Yorker in an act from a Shakespeare play. We each did a monologue at the end. It was terrifying but I made myself do it. I was so nervous for mine I got choked up as I did my lines, though cannot now recall what it was from. It helped with realness even though it was unintended. One woman would get a martini before class. I never did that. I didn't want to use that crutch though I kind of wanted to.

Read the story here, how improv can help reduce anxiety:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/09/comedy-improv-anxiety/403933/?utm_source=SFTwitter

Thursday, January 8, 2015

This is What Terrorism Does



Terrorism wins when it makes us afraid. Afraid to travel, afraid to speak, afraid to live our lives. That is what terrorism does.

Sometimes it wins.

I was sitting in the interior waiting room of my doctor's office yesterday after hearing the news of the attack on the Paris office of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. There was no doubt  it was an act of terror, a reaction to the publication's cartoons lampooning Islamist extremists.

As I waited for my eyes to be dilated fully, I scrolled through the news and posts about the attack on my phone, shaking my head in disgust as my vision increasingly blurred.

The room was filled with other patients of various ages, shapes and sizes waiting, like me, to see their doctors. The Ellen show was on a TV in the corner. Some of us shared a laugh or two though none of us related to each other directly.

I watched as a gray-haired couple was called away only to be replaced by an almost identical-looking gray-haired couple. Then they were called away.

I had a long wait. Time to people-watch. Time to think.

A single man took one of their seats to the left of the TV. And then another man breezed in, middle aged, maybe 60, and sat beside the TV. He was carrying a gift bag with some festive ribbons on it. Was it for Christmas? New Year's? Was it for him, for someone else?

I wondered why he was carrying that bag, so many days after the holidays, as it looked more like a holiday gift than any other occasion. But who knew.

Then he was quickly called into a room and left the bag where he'd put it by his feet moments earlier.

I couldn't help but wonder why he left it. It seemed very intentional. I know these rooms well in this doctor's office. They are not cramped. There is plenty of space.

I heard his name. I saw what he looked like. I had no idea what his background might be. Still, my thoughts persisted: Who leaves a bag like that behind?

I didn't like it. And the more I stared at that bag, and in the wake of the attack that morning, my mind turned to bad thoughts.

I started having fantasies of a bomb going off. Why, though? But terror often is random. It could be about losing a job. Religion. Whatever.

I stared at the bag and thought if it exploded, would we all be killed? Maimed? Would it blow out the side of the building? I turned my face — just in case. I wanted to go to the desk and tell someone that this bag was unattended.

I looked at the older woman in the wheelchair facing the bag. And the man on his phone a chair away. And the woman next to me whom I'd exchanged a smile with in the first waiting room.

Why would anyone want to harm us? Kill us?

I was a little embarrassed at myself for having these "crazy" thoughts. I was irritated at the man for leaving the bag. And I could not stop thinking bad thoughts because these things happen when you least expect them. That is how it typically works.

And then the man returned, whisked up his bag, and left.

I was relieved but also troubled. Not that those thoughts crossed my mind at all. I suppose that is somewhat normal these days.

But I was troubled that I thought so much about that bag, wasting my energy worried about something bad happening when it was so unlikely.

I could have closed my eyes and been peaceful. Meditated. Read my book. 

Instead I filled my mind with horror.

A pretty little gift bag. Probably meant to bring someone joy.

And that is what terrorism does.