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:

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.


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.