Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I WILL FOLLOW YOU: Some Thoughts on the New Student Activists

         In the spring of 2000, I visited the Viet Nam War Memorial in Washington D. C. for the first, and to date, only time.  It had been 25 years since the end of that war, decades since over 50,000 of my generation and millions of Vietnamese had been killed in that conflict. The passage of time notwithstanding, tears sprang to my eyes as I approached the memorial.  

         When my 15-year-old, looking worried, asked why I was crying, all I could manage through my tears was, “This is my generation.” I could not then, and still can not, adequately describe what a trauma that war had been for my generation. 

         We went to war or watched our peers go off to fight a war we did not understand. We heard the nightly body counts on the news.  We marched.  We sang protest songs. We wrote letters. And while we protested, the generation before us sent more of the boys of my generation (and boys they largely were) off to fight in this war that, we now know, our leaders believed could not be won. 

         We were young. Very young. We thought we could change the world.  Maybe our protests helped to end the war.  I have to believe so.

         Why do I bring this up now?

         Because I am watching another, much younger generation take up its fight. After Parkland, something broke loose in these kids who have spent their entire lives with the shadow of school shootings hanging over them. We have failed them, so they must take up the fight for their own safety themselves. 

         Today I went to the high school from which my daughters graduated over a decade ago.  I went to bear witness to a student walkout.  I arrived at 10 a.m., just as a portion of the student body began to leave their classrooms along with students all over the country.  They walked out in remembrance of the students and faculty killed at Parkland.  They stood (mostly) in silence for 17 minutes – one minute for each of those killed at the Florida school.

         Tears came to my eyes as I approached the crowd of students, just as they had 18 years ago in front of the Viet Nam War Memorial.  I couldn't stop crying.  I cried for their youth and their bravery and their idealism.  I cried because we have not protected them. I cried for the ways every generation fails the next.  I cried for my frustration with the cowardice of our legislators. I cried for the long, hard fight these kids have ahead of them.  And I cried for the trauma they will re-experience when they visit a future memorial for gun victims. 

         But most of all, I cried with pride.  These kids have given me hope at the end of a long dry spell where hope was hard to come by.  They are passionate.  They are articulate.  And soon they will be voting. 

         So, please, let us join them on March 24 at the March For Our Lives.  Let us show them that they are not alone, that we do not value the rights of gun owners over the right of our children to attend school without fear.  Let us redouble our efforts to get assault weapons out of the hands of civilians.  Let us be there at the moment of turning when meaningful gun reform is enacted by every state.  

         Last month, I submitted this letter to the editor of the New York

         “I have a dream that one day all members of Congress will
         refuse to accept donations from the NRA, and that they will
         convene a bipartisan committee to determine within 30 days
         the best ways to prevent future gun deaths.  In my dream,
         both chambers of Congress pass comprehensive gun legislation
         soon after the committee’s report.  In the conclusion to my
         dream, the Justices of the Supreme Court, upon receiving a
         challenge to the new legislation, re-read the Second Amendment
         and come to their collective senses, recognizing that this
         amendment was meant to provide for militias at a time when
         the country did not have a standing army, and that, in any event,
         the militias were meant to be “well-regulated.” [1]
         They didn’t print it  -- maybe because I’m no Martin Luther King, Jr. or maybe because they receive over 1000 letters a day.  If I were to write the letter today, it would simply state:  "Thank you.  Thank you to the youth of our nation for raising your voices.  I am so proud of you. I am so sorry that we let you down.”

[1] The text of the Second Amendment:  "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Sunday, December 10, 2017


     Today I missed my mother. 

     So, maybe you’re asking, does this really merit a blog post?  Well, yes, for me it does. Let’s start with the facts:  

     My mother died three-and-a-half years ago at almost 94.  

     I loved her.  

     We were not close in the usual sense, although, beginning in my adolescence, we did a long and complicated dance that lasted until the brink of her death.

     She lived a mile from me during the last 12 years of her life, so we spent a lot of time together and, during her final three or four years, I did a lot of caregiving.

     I loved her, and I rarely found a way past the thicket of her defenses, which mostly took the form of offenses.

     It pained me to write that last sentence.

     Today I missed my mother.  I missed her fiercely.  I missed her in a way that took my breath away.  I was in my bedroom folding laundry, thinking about nothing.  And then I was missing my mother. 

     Perhaps this seems unremarkable to you - you who are/were able to talk with your moms about things that are/were important to you.  But for me it is always a surprise.  At first, after she passed, I felt mostly exhausted and relieved, and sad for her because of the awfulness of her final months. 

     And then, every now and again, after days or weeks of barely thinking of her, I started to have these moments.  Moments of sharp missing. 

    At these times, I ask myself:  Who am I missing?  Is there a body memory of the woman who held me and fed me and read to me during the early pre-memory years?  Certainly, by the time we were interacting in a way I would remember, she had shown herself to be threatened and confused by a separate me, a me who had opportunities that she had never had, and I was struggling to cope with her defenses to genuine and meaningful interaction.  I was learning that talking, for some, is a way of avoiding intimacy.

     Sometimes I think I have always been missing my mother.  Sometimes I wish I could have known her as a girl, as a young woman -- before life took its toll.

     Before she had to leave school at 14.

     Before her city was bombed during WWII.

     Before she had to leave her job upon marrying at age 23.

     Before my father decided that the family – my mom, my older brother, and I in utero - should move with him across an ocean to Canada, and then to the U.S.

      Before she realized she would never see her parents again.  

      My daughters, who did not carry the baggage with which I was laden, had a different relationship with my mother.  The things she had found threatening in me – my independence, my education – she celebrated in them.  I am happy that they were able to know her in a different way.

       Here is an excerpt from something that my daughter, Anne, wrote shortly after my mother died:

      "If she had not been born in Glasgow in the interim of two world
      wars; if she had not had to leave school like all girls and most boys
      of her social class to become a working member of the family; if she
      had not been expected to marry and bear children as her sole 
      occupation; if she had been of a different time, my gran might have 
      lived a life not so unlike mine.  She was an extraordinary woman.”

      Perhaps Anne, who was able to see the extraordinary in her grandmother, saw my mother more clearly than I did.  Her life was not what it might have been had she been born a few decades later or gotten to choose to stay in school or where and when to work or where to live.  And yet, I can see now in retrospect, that she did the best that she could, or, as her fellow Scots would say, she made a pretty good fist of it. 

         And so today, I raise a figurative glass to her perseverance. Today I miss her in all of her prickly complexity.   


Saturday, November 4, 2017


Lessons learned or relearned during my first week post-Achilles-tendon surgery:

1.   Surgery and its aftermath are exhausting.  Plan for this.

2.   It is much more relaxing to be laid-up when you are retired. (Makes No. 1 above easier to deal with)

3.   My husband is a great caregiver.  (Thank you, Bill!)

4.   Pain sucks.  Taking narcotics for a few days will not make you part of the opioid crisis.

5.   Everything is easier with two legs.

6.   The recliner is a brilliant invention.

7.   The inventor of the knee scooter is a god.

8.   A hat can be repurposed as a toe warmer.

9.   My friends are great cooks. Thank you all.

10.  Mandatory downtime can be a nice opportunity for reading and reflection.  (A reflection: Awkwardness in getting from here to there for a few weeks is not that big a deal in the scheme of things, especially if No. 2 above applies.  I have a warm home, food, hot running water, and I WILL be back on my feet.)

11.  It is not advisable to knit while on narcotics, unless you want to spend three days knitting and ripping out the same 10 rows.

12.  Your doctor won't tell you everything.  For instance, telling me that if I had to go upstairs, I should do it on my bottom was good advice.  Neglecting to mention that I would need someone at the top of the stairs to help me get from the floor to the knee scooter would have been a dangerous omission if I lived alone.

13.  Balance matters.  So glad I did all those yoga balance poses over the years.

14. Take nothing for granted.  When you get out of bed in the morning, check to see that everything is working.  If yes, thank your arms and legs and brain for doing their jobs.  If you can get into the  shower without assistance, be grateful for that too.

Blessings to all everywhere who are now, have ever been, or ever will be, temporarily or permanently without the use of one or more limbs.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

                  -Talking Heads

         While swimming the other morning, I pondered the very young lifeguards (probably local community college students), and wondered what they make of the grey-haired swimmers who populate the pool most mornings.

         Given that 40-year-olds seemed impossibly old and barely worthy of my notice when I was 20, I imagine the lifeguards view us (who are well beyond 40) as ancient and not meriting a thought beyond making sure we don’t drown.

         I think about these young lifeguards as I prepare to travel east for my 50-year high-school reunion.  I will come back to the lifeguards in a moment, but allow me to first share my initial reaction to the notices I received about the reunion.

         Astonishment--plain and simple.



         How did I get here?  How is it possible that I have a history that stretches back 50 years and more?  Where did the time go?  When I expressed this sentiment to a daughter recently, she insisted that I am still young, and kindly added that I look younger than I am. 

         I think she may have missed the point.  (How could she not?  She is 29).    

         Regardless of how I look or feel (fine, thank you), the years ahead are looking more finite.  When I was very young, the end of life was a distant fog.  I understood that it would come, but it was so far away—old age itself seemed so improbable--that it hardly warranted my attention.   

         In mid-life, I had young children and was too busy to think much about the end.  It was out there, but I had daughters to raise and a job to go to.    

         But now.  Now, I have reached the point where the end has weight and heft.  It is in sight.  It may not come for 30 more years – my family is long-lived – but it is clear that it will come. 

         I do not write about this because I am afraid.  I am not.  Nor am I unhappy.  I am just surprised.  Closely following upon my surprise is gratitude.  I am grateful to have made it this far -- I love my life.

         Here is what those young lifeguards can’t see and won’t know for a very long time.  We 60-somethings may not look like much, but my life and the lives of my friends are rich and full of meaning.

         And we have something those lifeguards don’t have. 

         We have time. 

         Does it seem odd that I say we have time right after saying that it has been 50 years since high school?  Well, of course, I don’t mean that we have endless years stretching ahead, but while those years last, we do have time.

         If we had kids, they are grown.  Most of us have seen our parents through their final years.  If we are fortunate, our 30- or 40- or 50-hour-a-week work is done.  We can now take up paid or volunteer work that feeds our souls. 

         We have time to do the things that we love.  To write or to garden or to paint. We have time to travel.  To read.  To take classes.

         For me, the two most precious things for which I have time are relationships and the causes that were given short shrift during mid-life.  I can hang out with friends or daughters or grandkids.  I have time to do things with my husband. And I am delighted to be able to devote time to the social justice activities that are dear to my heart.  

         When I retired, a friend said to me, “We have had our cake.  These years are the icing.”  So, I don’t envy those lifeguards their youth.  I had mine.  And I don’t mind that I am all but invisible to them.  I am too busy enjoying the icing, and I intend to continue to do so for as long as I am able.

Friday, July 14, 2017


         You know those memories that stick in your head for no apparent reason?  Today’s example is the clear echo in my mind of the words on Bruce (now Caitlin) Jenner’s T-shirt during the 1976 Olympic decathalon:  “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now!”

         Why would I remember such a thing, when I can’t remember what I did two days ago?  Perhaps it is the boot I have been hobbling around in for almost five weeks that has jarred loose this memory.


         Yes, dear reader, I have injured my Achilles Tendon, and after months of stretching, icing, resting, and PT-ing, I am now in a boot that is supposed to immobilize the tendon so that it may heal. 

         May it be so.

         It is not, however, the boot, the tendon, or even Jenner, that I wish to talk about here.  (Although I do want to mention that it was rude of the podiatrist to opine that I have a “disorganized tendon.”)

         What I want to address here is the seemingly mundane subject of feet themselves. 

         Why feet?  No, I haven’t run out of more interesting topics.  I just think (at this moment when one of mine is not working as it should) that it’s time to give feet their due.  

         Feet, of course, keep us upright and mobile.  They allow us rise from sitting, to stand, to balance, to walk, to run, to dance, to hike, to climb stairs and mountains.  They are, in short, indispensable to ease of living, as I am now only too well aware. 

         Still it is not their everyday heroics that I want to write about here.  I instead wish to describe two ways in which our feet can keep us from losing our way – metaphorically that is, not while hiking. 

         1.      Our feet remind us that we are embodied.

         We human beings often forget that we are embodied, that we are in fact creatures -- animals.  It is so easy for us to live in, and rely upon, our heads alone and to believe that we are different from other embodied beings. 

         Nothing brings me out of this delusion faster than taking a good look at my feet.  Try it yourself the next time you are in the shower. Is there anything more creaturely than a foot?
          You can paint the nails.  You can admire a slim ankle.  But, come on. Take a really good look.  Stare at them for a while. 

         Yep.  You are an animal.
         Periodically spending some time with this knowledge is a good way to deflate the ego and remember that we are part of, and dependent upon, an intricate web of other beings.  Whereas, living in the head alone can lead to anxiety and a feeling of separation from the rest of creation.

         When we come back into our bodies and really abide there, instead of treating them as nothing more than conveyances for our brains, we experience life differently.  I don’t know about you, but when I am fully in my body, I am more open to intuition.  I experience, and am able to better regulate, my emotions.  My ego quiets.

         And moving my body calms and centers me.  A solitary walk or swim or bike ride can settle an unquiet mind.  A half an hour of yoga can bring body and mind into balance. 

         2.      Our feet remind us to stay grounded.

         Our feet literally connect us to the ground as we move through our days.  And they can remind us to stay emotionally and spiritually grounded. 

         Every morning I stand in front of my bedroom window and do the yoga tree pose.     

(No that isn’t me – it someone younger and more coordinated, but it’s a good illustration.)

         Outside my window, is a giant Douglas Fir.  I stand in front of its trunk and feel my foot connecting with the floor, while picturing the tree’s roots connecting to the earth.  After switching feet, I take a moment to remember to ground myself in the earth and in what is important to me.  

         On a good day, this helps me to keep from losing my way in the thicket of information, noise, and obligations that obscures my path. It just might work for you too.

         So, please don’t wait for your feet to fail you.  Take a good look at them, and let them remind you to live in your body as well as your brain. And if they are working well, appreciate them and notice how they ground you as you move forward through your days.