Monday, December 31, 2012

A Merry Heart






Someone back in Julian and/or Gregorian days, decided January 1st would mark the starting point. I know this because Wikipedia tells me so.
Personally I think winter solstice would be a more logical moment to mark the moment when the new year begins. That's when I imagine my Northern European ancestors breathing a collective sigh of relief that the sun is returning. As a friend of mine, who suffers from SAD reflected on December 22nd, "Today is 2 seconds longer than yesterday...we have turned the corner...".
But whenever or wherever that moment in time exists; the moment when we, as inhabitants of Spaceship Earth, begin a new revolution around the sun, it is a moment for reflection. Much like my birthday, when I began my own journey, on New Year's Day, I tend to take an inventory of what has passed, and what is yet to come.
When I was a younger person, I tended to look towards the future. I would make resolutions, set goals, review my dreams. My resolutions were mostly the usual suspects; lose weight; quit smoking; exercise more. As I entered my forties they centered on education...I earned my bachelor's degree in my forties, my master's in my fifties.
I have achieved most of my annual goals...but I think I will always be a plump person, and my perennial resolve to be satisfied with that, is constant.
Now that my past is longer than my future, my resolution is simply to be thankful for every breath.
There is a thanksgiving prayer, by that very famous author Anonymous, that reads, in part,

We thank Thee for joys both great and simple —
For wonder, dreams and hope;
For the newness of each day;
For laughter and song and a merry heart...
For the wisdom of the old;
For the courage of the young;
For the promise of the child;
For the strength that comes when needed...



This year I renew my resolve to love my life, to respect my children, to appreciate my spouse.
This year I resolve, more than ever, to strive for a merry heart.




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Location:Omaha, NE

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Horrible Disease, Part II




It's on all our minds, this week before what many of us think of as the most joyful time of year. On friday December 14, 2012, a young man was suffering so much that before he took his own life, he felt the need to commit an unspeakable act of violence that killed his mother, several educators, and twenty sweet babies in their school room.

Scrolling through my social media accounts yesterday I read an overwhelming call out for "Gun Control". It's almost like a mantra among my friends and online acquaintances with whom I share a mostly left leaning political stance. One of the most common themes..."it's easier to obtain a firearm than to receive treatment for Mental Illness".

Indeed that may be true, but when smart, troubled mentally ill individuals go so long untreated that they commit acts of violence against our most vulnerable people, including themselves, they are not deterred by laws or regulations designed to prevent them from committing those acts.

Here's what I want to know. Where are the calls for Mental Illness treatment? Where are the angry demands for awareness of these debilitating conditions?

We have weekend long telethons to raise money for Cancer research, AIDS research and heart disease. But I have yet to hear any celebrity or Medical spokesperson, call for money for researchers search for a cure for Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar disorders, or any of the other mental diseases that affect millions of humans all over the world.

These illnesses have symptoms we cannot see, sometimes, until it's too late. The symptoms of Mental Illness do not require canes, or IVs or wigs. We cannot cure these horrible diseases by injecting poison into the bodies of their sufferers to kill rapidly reproducing cells, or surgically removing damaged organs. Elderly sufferers don't get handicapped parking spots. The very young who are afflicted don't get visits from entire football teams, Ronald McDonald, or Make A Wish visits to Disneyland.

We can't see these afflicted individuals, until we see them sleeping under a freeway overpass, pushing a grocery cart, or God forbid, toting a couple of semi automatic guns into a school, shopping mall, or movie theater. Then we call for More Gun Control.

I believe I have the right to ask these questions because I am the mother of a person who suffers from one of these life threatening conditions. I have been one of those persons who chalked it up to my own poor parenting skills, or post traumatic stress from abuse at the hands of a (possibly mentally ill) neighbor. I spent many years alternating from overwhelming anger at others, guilty anger at myself, using the word I know think of as an obscenity, "should".

Now my child is an adult. As adults we are responsible for our own health. And for the mentally ill, that is a daunting responsibility. It's frightening to watch, it's heartbreaking on so many levels. It's unbearable sad.



Here are some resources for learning more.


The National Alliance on Mental Illness, http://www.nami.org/
The National Alliance for Mental Health
Mental Health America, Mental Health Americal
World Federation for Mental Health, World Federation for Mental Health



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Location:Omaha, NE

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Prayers






Today we are celebrating a uniquely American holiday, Thanksgiving Day. First celebrated via proclamation by President George Washington, on Thursday, November 26, 1789, " ...to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation..."

When I was a child, before we sat down to Thanksgiving Dinner, my Father would read, or have one of the rest of us read, A Prayer of Thanksgiving from the (Episcopalian) Book of Common Prayer that began, "Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love..."

When my children were small, we would go around the table and each of us would say something that we are thankful for.

Recently, I heard my sweet husband, while cleaning the dishes after a Tahnksgiving meal, say to himself, and all within earshot, "I am thankful to the man who invented the garbage disposal."

True, Thanksgiving Day has as many meanings as there are people. I frequently hear some people refer to it as "Turkey Day". Since I began working at the Big Box Super Store, I have met many who think of it as the precourser to "Black Friday", which I have already blogged about.

Since we already had our Thanksgiving meal at our house, I woke up this morning and leisurely read my paper and drank my coffee. My local newspaper, The Omaha World-Herald, publishes a column called "Annie's Mailbox", a descendant of "Dear Abby", and I found a little Thanksgiving Prayer I liked so much, I saved it and printed it out to hang on my wall to see every day. I would like to share it with you here:
We come to this table today, O Lord, humble and thankful and glad.
We thank Thee first for the great miracle of life, for the exaltation of being human, for the capacity to love.
We thank Thee for joys both great and simple —
For wonder, dreams and hope;
For the newness of each day;
For laughter and song and a merry heart;
For compassion waiting within to be kindled;
For the forbearance of friends and the smile of a stranger;
For the arching of the earth and trees and heavens and the fruit of all three;
For the wisdom of the old;
For the courage of the young;
For the promise of the child;
For the strength that comes when needed;
For this family united here today.
Of those to whom much is given, much is required.
May we and our children remember this. Amen.




Let us also take a moment to remember a moment in our history that has been neglected in all the discussion of the holidays, and shopping, and eating. On this date, 49 years ago, President John F. Kennedy was murdered, leaving behind his young wife, two small children, and a shocked and heartbroken nation.

I wonder what George Washington would have written about the anniversary of a National Tragedy coinciding with a National Day of Thanks. Perhaps he would have suggested we give thanks to that Great and Glorious Being, not just for all that we have, but for all of those who came before us, who have contributed to who we are.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Eat up! Give thanks!
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Location:Omaha,United States

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Holiday Craziness and Health Insurance.




Since I work in retail, I do not enjoy the holidays as much as I used to. I come home from work exhausted, and frankly I have a hard time getting into the spirit of the season until Christmas Eve. If you want to know how I feel about that day, go back and read my Blog post of December 23, 2011:
http://laughingqueenwislanscraft.blogspot.com/2011/12/laughter-nerves-and-christmas-roast.html
But the weeks preceding have become hard.
Hallowe'en is a tapestry of memories, joyful and sad, as well as the opening salvo of "the holiday season". In 2001, my mother passed away as I was handing out treats to my neighborhood munchkins. She had been ill, and in hospice, so it was not unexpected, but I spent the evening arranging travel, and packing. When I looked out the window and saw that there was a full moon, I felt a sense of wonder and joy that she had chosen that particular moment to start her new adventure. I had no regrets about our relationship, and the event has not had any effect on my joyful heart on hallowe'en as I greet hundreds of smiling, sweet (mostly) children each year.
But in my work, Hallowe'en has begun to morph into the Christmas shopping season. I'm already tired of candy, and I'm already just plain tired at the end of the day.
This year I am especially saddened that the big box retail store that employs me and provides my health insurance, has opted to ask its employees to interrupt time they might otherwise be spending with their families, so that it may begin its "Black Friday" event on Thanksgiving evening.
Even before I worked in retail, I wasn't one of those who partake in this remarkable event each year. I like to stay home and watch football. When asked what hours I wanted to work on that day, I opted for my regular schedule. I'm not looking forward to the craziness, but I am thankful for the health insurance.



When my children were small, Thanksgiving was a day when we would gather together, either at our home, or at the home of my in-laws, to cook, eat too much, and relax. Some years we would invite an "orphan" to join us. Usually a friend who was single and living far away from his or her own family. It was a way to share a day that, I believe, is a day we celebrate family, with someone who would otherwise be alone.
These past few years I sometimes feel I have to dig deep to find the joy in the cooking, eating and clean up, since the next day begins the grueling shopping season.
As you shop this year, dear Reader, please remember your tired retail worker. Did I say how I am thankful for the Health insurance?
Be friendly. Curb your frustration, and share a little love. I know I will appreciate your extra smile and patience.
ADDENDUM:
Since I have written this, numerous petitions have sprung up asking various retailers to adjust their openings back to actual day-after-Thanksgiving, in order to allow their employees to spend the entire day with their families. If you are interested in signing any of these petitions, click on this link: http://www.change.org/petitions#search/Black%20Friday Or just Google "black Friday petitions".
Thanks
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Monday, August 27, 2012

Memories of a Good Man

In 1944, my grandfather hired a young man to work as a farm hand on the land he had inherited from an elderly cousin. At the time, my grandfather was working for the Southern Pacific railroad, and was planning to move to the farm full time upon his retirement three years hence. The young man was 32 years old in 1944, the same age as my father. He was paid a small salary plus given a small house to live in down the lane on the farm.

When my grandfather died in 1961, my father inherited the farm, and our family spent the hot summer months at the farm.

The young man continued to work for my father and live in that little house. He was easy to spot as we drove down the mile long lane. He was tall and lanky, with a long face, a quick smile, and a sparkle in his eyes. He would look up from whatever he was doing and give a wave.

He  married and had some children. All told, he and his wife raised fourteen children in that small house on my grandfather's farm. During those summers, our family would sit outside as the evening cooled. The distance between the two houses was probably a half mile as the crow flies. We would hear the laughter of children, and sometimes the crack of a baseball bat, from the little house down the lane.

My father eventually stopped growing tobacco after the dangers of smoking became known, and both he and my mother had quit the habit. But during the 1940s and through to the mid 1960s, the main crop of the farm was tobacco, and harvesting tobacco has to be done by hand. I learned from my father a little about the process of harvesting it.

Without going into detail, it's a labor intensive process.









I guess, back in the day, if you wanted to make any money, you had to grow lots of the stuff. And you needed to hire extra people during the process of the picking, sorting, and hanging it to dry. The young man's children provided much of that labor.

One time, when I was visiting my parents, one of the young man's children drove the taxicab that delivered me to the airport. He told me about working summers harvesting the tobacco. Hard, hot work, but he spoke of it as a gift. I felt humbled riding in the back of the cab.

When my father died in 2001, he was 91. The young man and his wife were still living in the little house. Our family sold the land, but the young man and his wife stayed on, until age and financial concerns made it more practical to move into a retirement home.

The young died earlier this year at the age of 99 years and seven months. His family memorialized him as being the cornerstone of a house full of love and laughter. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the crack of bat on balls and the sound of children's laughter across the hot summer field.


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Location:Omaha

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Suanne and Lord Byron

My friend, with whom I shared so many girlhood conversations, has died, at the too young age of 59.

We met when we were twelve. Her family had just moved to my neighborhood, and she lived between my house and the all-girls school where she and I were among the "new girls" that year. We became the walking to school friends that I wrote about in my last post. I would stop by her house sometimes after school for awhile before heading home.
Here we are in our school uniforms:




I met her mother and the toddler brother of whom she was so proud. I remember a day when she showed me a tuft of fur she had saved from her dog "Rex", who had died not too long before. Even at that tender age, an age when we are often too wrapped up in out own little worlds to notice to much about others', I could tell how much love she carried in her heart.

We discovered we both had a love for art and music. It was in the world of music and singing that we really came together. I envied her her high clear soprano, I was a lowly alto, but even so, we often competed for the same solos in the various choruses in which we sang. She usually got the Soprano solo, and I would sing the lower harmony.

Our class graduated in 1970. I don't know how it came to be, but around our junior year, we began calling ourselves the "Babes of 1970", and that name has stuck for the last forty-two years.




After graduation, we went our separate ways. We had children, married, divorced, remarried. But we always were "the Babes." I have seen Suanne every ten years at class reunions, but, with the help of the new technologies that keep us all connected, email, and social networking, have been able to enjoy her friendship, and that of most of us "Babes" on a daily basis.

Yesterday I scrolled back through three years of "conversations" with Suanne on Facebook. I saw her comments to others, including other "Babes". All were filled with love. Love for her friends, her husband, her children, of whom she was so proud, and her lovely grandchildren.

It was through this medium that I learned she had written and illustrated a children's book*, and I am proud to be the owner of an autographed copy.

I also learned things about her life I had not known when we were growing up, after I encouraged her to write a "25 things about me" note, which she graciously shared with her friends and family. One of her children asked her to illustrate it on paper, because, "face book will not last forever". I hope she did that.

I have written again and again of the endurance and importance of childhood friendships. When we are children we do not know what we will become, nor how much we love each other. But the experiences we share as children are what bind us. When I met Suanne for the first time after thirty years in 2000, I knew her mostly by the sound of her laughter. Like water flowing over pebbles in a stream. The sweet soprano of her voice so much the same as it had been when we sang together at seventeen.

She seemed to find her joy as an adult. It was in her art, music, and especially her family. As I reread all those posts on Facebook, that joy was always at the surface. She had married her true love, and was living a life surrounded by beauty. Even as she wrote of the trials of her final illness, she was optimistic.

Last Friday after treatment, she wrote one day, one of the techs asked, "do you meditate during treatment?"
Surprised by her query due to my daily struggle for calm, I replied, "no. I sing".

Lord Byron could have been describing Suanne when he wrote this poem, so I'll let him describe my friend.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.





* http://www.kopaldart.com/SKK_Illustrations.html
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Location:Omaha

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Walking to School Friends


From the time I was twelve years old until eighteen, I attended a school that had the motto, Non scholae sed Vitae Discimus. (We learn not for school, but for life).

I attended with a small group of young women, about sixty of us, who as we attended school together formed bonds we didn't even realize we were forming. As I have written before, some friendships are stronger than time and space. These are the bonds that were formed in part because some of us walked to school together.

When you walk to school with a girlfriend you talk and talk... And talk. About everything. You visit each other's homes. You meet each other's families.

I had two very special Walking to School Friends. We sang together in the school Chorus, and in the more elite "Ensemble" during our Senior year. We acted in plays together, and sometime we competed for the same solos.

These days we'll go for months without a connection. Far flung, many of us see each other face to face only at ten-year reunions when it is as if we saw each other yesterday. In between the planned meetings, sometimes something happens. An Illness. A parent who died too young. Divorce. Widowhood. A child is hurt, or worse. A natural disaster occurs and one becomes homeless for a time.

When these somethings occur, one of us may make a phone call, or write a letter. Then we women get to work on the business of love and support. We know the value of a handwritten note, a bunch of flowers, or a phone call. There is a sisterhood amongst people who virtually and literally grew up together. And where there are sisters, there is usually love. And sister love is powerful.

One of my Walking-to-School Friends is facing what may be her final illness. This is a woman who is surrounded by love even without her sisters. She has a loving husband, wonderful daughters, delightful grandchildren, a multitude of friends, a cherished pet. But recently a letter was written; an email was sent.

Her husband tells me that they already receive daily notes and flowers from loved ones. Neighbors bring food. Even a gift of labor, for the unfinished tree-house that he promised their grandchildren, a project that was postponed due to the interminable doctors' visits and a focus on something else. But when the women who were once school-mates learned of their sister's illness, something exploded.

I am again reminded of the simple power of love. As I read back over drafts of posts I've written here over the last couple of years it's a recurring theme. I guess I can't say it, or learn it enough. When my Walking-to-School friend wrote to me yesterday she said, "Thank you for your loving kindness all the years of our life." Singular.

So I take a breath. I remember my childhood. I feel the loving kindness.

Location:Omaha, NE

Monday, April 16, 2012

Birthdays and Virgil



Ever since I was born, I have been getting older. Better than the alternative, as the old chestnut goes. I'm going to be a year older on my birthday, one month from today, whether I'm ready for it or not.

I'm walking now, instead of running. I proved to myself that I could, and I have. And I did. I'm walking 2 1/2 - 3 miles about three times a week.

I do not have a sedentary job. Some days I walk my ten thousand steps just in the course of my work. I've keep my weight (mostly) down, although it could still go down a little. Well okay, a lot. But I am a pretty healthy specimen, all things considered.

I'm not a weakling, but my hands aren't as strong as they used to be. My hands, yes, my fingers and wrists are lacking stamina. Not what I have been expecting. I can't open my soft drink bottles as easily as I used to. A gallon of milk? What's up with that? It's irritating, I tell ya.

I am also really smart. But it is obvious to me that I'm not as quick as I used to be. I am learning a new routine at work. It's not hard, you don't have to have a degree to do this stuff (and I have a couple of those), but it just seems to be taking me a little while longer to get the routine down than it might have just a couple of years ago.

And I don't like this, not one little bit.

Okay, now I've vented, and in the spirit of my stated goal with this blog, I need to clarify that I am secretly sort of excited to be turning sixty.

Sixty. Sixty.


I sort of like the sound of it. Sixty is wise. Sixty is seasoned.

Guilt, which used to be my constant companion, has left me for a younger, more attractive woman.
Sixty is the adolescence of old age. Like a teenager, I can't wait to see what's next, I am still deciding what I want to do when I "grow up".





Virgil wrote, Haec olim meminisse iuvabit, which according to Robert Fagles*, translates to, "A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this.". Virgil may have only been referring to Aeneas' troublesome journey, but life is full of ups and downs, and at sixty, I look back on it all with joy, or at least I try to.

I'm laughing as I write this, because, really, how many of my younger readers read Virgil, in Latin, in high school? But that's a commentary on the educational system in this country, and the subject of another blog post, on another day.

And there, dear reader, is another wonderful thing about turning sixty. I can now officially call myself a curmudgeon. Tee hee.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Fagles

Location:Omaha

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The One I Didn't Want to Write


If you've been under a rock and haven't heard about Rush Limbaugh's latest gaff, well, you've been under a rock. You know, I've been on the planet long enough to see lots of changes.

> I saw the images on my TV of the fire hoses and the German Shepherds, and I was old enough to be shocked that people would treat other people with such cruelty and disrespect.

> My best girl friend once had to spend frighteningly long weeks planning and arranging and being secretive in order to terminate an unplanned pregnancy at a too young age, when it was illegal in most states, and certainly not something to discuss with one's parents.

> My best gay man friend committed suicide rather than face his life after he was arrested for being gay!

Forty years go by. We think we've evolved. Birth Control is legal. Abortion is (sort of) legal. But, according to Wikipedia, certain sexual activities are still illegal, between consenting adults, in seventy (70) countries, and in the U.S. in 14 states until 2003 *

Fast forward to 2012, the absurdity of a male only congressional panel in a discussion about birthcontrol. Rush Limbaugh's rant/personal attack against a brilliant young law student testifying on the uses of Birth Control Pills other than contraception.

I am using lots of italics here because even though I am wise, and have been around the block a few times, I'm appalled, shocked, outraged, etc. about all of this.

In my city last week, a hearing was held at a City Council Meeting on whether discrimination in the workplace against citizens who are gay, lesbian, or transgender should be illegal. People actually stood up and argued against it. One even expressed concern that it could cause lawsuits against employers. Um, if companies are using sexual orientation or identity as a basis for employment, they should be sued. (Sorry about the italics again.)

Having said all of the above, and not as articulately as I would like to, I'd like to recommend you read this column that ran in the Omaha World-Herald this morning. Written by a very bright young columnist with the unlikely name of Rainbow Rowell. Here is a link to Let's get down to (lady) business: http://omaha.com/article/20120311/LIVING/703119953#rainbow-let-s-get-down-to-lady-business

I didn't want to write this. I wanted to write about Spring coming, the finches in my back hard turning yellow, the dogwood down the street coming into bloom. But I had to let you all know about Rainbow. She said it right.

Maybe next week I'll write about my experiences with menopause. Gotta get the ball rolling on that education about Lady Parts!

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_law
*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_laws_in_the_United_States

Location:Omaha

Friday, February 24, 2012

Teen Drama redux

My son was a teenaged father. There was a bit of drama back then. For a week or so.

Then he picked himself and walked purposefully into a sort of adulthood. Don't get me wrong, there was still some drama... Like the time his pregnant girlfriend threatened to call Child Protective Services on me if I didn't drive over to her parents' house one night at ten o'clock to give him a ride home. Or the time, after they got their own apartment when I got the tearful, frantic call at One am to take their cat to the vet. ~sigh~

I'll never forget the look on my son's face the first time I saw him hold his son. His smile could have outshone the sun that cold winter day.

But all in all, I hand it to the guy. Those first couple of years of fatherhood for him were terribly difficult and he faced his changed life with courage and determination to do right by his children. He grew into his own adulthood with two tiny children, eventually, all by himself.

Fast forward eighteen years. My son married a woman who became Mother to those first two children for the past twelve years. The now grown up father has two teenaged children, a wife who adores him, and an additional three kids. A sprawling family of children whose ages range from two through eighteen. The oldest of whom just moved into his first apartment, is attending college, learning code, playing guitar, practicing parkour, and making all the (hopefully) right mistakes.

The second teenager is a sixteen year old girl. A tall, beautiful, brilliant, and naive young woman. Naive with a capital N.

The kids have been home schooled for the last ten years, learning fast. So earlier this year my granddaughter joined her brother and began taking classes at our local Community College. The transition has been predictable. From my point of view anyway. She's spreading her wings. Did I mention she's terribly naive?

Older boyfriend. Sneaking around. You know the drill. Oh by the way, she's still making straight As. Grin.

Her parents are frantic on the inside. A little terrified, I think. They are remarkably cool and calm on the outside. Her father, the former teenager, refers to himself as stern yet loving. Taking advice from his mother (that would be me) as he should. In other words, he listens, hears everything I say, then makes his own decisions. Because he's a good father. A good man. He is taking care of business while being respectful of his child.

She, being Naive with a Capital N, doesn't get it of course. But she will. Because she's a good kid, beautiful and brilliant. She is learning some very important lessons.

I can't wait until she figures it out. She's going to be amazed, and really impressed with her parents!

I am so proud I could bust.

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Location:Omaha

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Horrible Disease

A thousand miles from here, a childhood friend is burying her son.  He died of that often fatal illness, schizophrenia. Another childhood friend, when telling of it described it as "this horrible disease that told him he had no disease."

My heart breaks for my old friend, who had watched her child try to cope with his mental illness for years.  In various communications about memorial services, times, places and such, it became clear that there are others among those of us who spent time together as children, who have watched helplessly, as our own children fight the unseen specter of the many faces of mental illness.

When I was a child, growing up in the 1950s and 60s, we didn't talk about such things. And frankly, not much was known about some of the various disorders we now have names for: ADD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, Aspergers, even depression.

I graduated school with about 50 women, some of whom I had known since preschool.  We all grew up in the same city, and most of us have attended at least one reunion.  When we were in our 20s and 30s, we went on crash diets, bought new outfits, plastered smiles on our faces and went to our reunions firm in the knowledge that no one knew of our deepest secrets, the impending divorces,  financial troubles,  problem children.  But we came together because we love each other.   By the time we attended our last reunion we had been through enough together that most of us no longer worried about "looking good".

For example, when Katrina hit, friends from all over the country rallied to help our New Orleans classmate get her hands on some money until she could go back to her job.  That one event opened me up to the fact that in many ways, our childhood friends remain our closest friends, even across vast distances of time and space.

In 2010, when I returned to the city of my birth for a reunion, I met with a childhood friend who has Aspergers Syndrome, a form of autism.  She told me how when we were small, her parents didn't know what to do with her.  How she herself didn't understand what was "wrong" with her, and turned to alcohol at a young age in an attempt to cope. She told me how, as a recovering alcoholic, she now understands a little more about herself.  We spent an enjoyable hour together, I was able to make amends for the thoughtless cruelty I, among others, treated her with when we were children, and she was able to say, she hadn't really noticed but forgave me anyway.  She also told me how hard she works to make eye contact with everyone she meets, and I was able to tell her I thought she did just fine.   I left our meeting feeling refreshed and renewed.

With the death of one friend's child, others of us rally around her.  Those of us who have children with mental illness now openly discuss and support each other.  Mental illness is an incurable disease.  It is sometimes invisible.  It is insidious, treacherous, and crafty.  It tells some of its sufferers that they have no disease. It requires constant vigilance, but most cases it is treatable.  It is also exhausting.   Its sufferers must cope with it day by day, breath by breath.  My own loved one suffered for most of his life before finally, after several suicide attempts, he now has a tenuous hold on understanding himself, sees his doctor regularly, takes his meds, and seems to have let go of misplaced shame.

Day by day.

Breath by breath.

Those of us who have loved ones who suffer from mental illness need to hold fast to one another, we need to understand that it's not our fault, and we need to give each other hugs.  Lots of big, bone-crushing hugs.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Suspicious Densities and my friend Jane

Jane




Sally















I first met Jane in 1993, when she and her husband moved to Omaha. We couldn't have more different backgrounds, but we are very similar, too. She is from New York City, and comfortable with all the sophistication that implies. I am a midwestern girl, a former California hippie, and more comfortable with beer than wine.

Jane comes from a large Sicilian American emotionally expansive and expressive family of people, probably Democrats. I come from a large family too, German Anglo Saxons who while loving, are, well, quieter about it, and Republicans.

We are both decidedly right-brained, mildly dyslexic, stubborn Tauruses...both married to Gemini men. We are both writers, cooks (although she really can cook), and artists. We like to talk (and talk, and talk; her husband calls it "flappin' "). We are both tenacious, focused, and rabidly feminist... We met at a chapter meeting of the local N.O.W. chapter.

Shortly before I met Jane, her best friend, Jeanette, died, after a difficult struggle with cancer. The person Jane is has been shaped by the death of her friend. I got to know Jeanette through listening to Jane's stories. I learned to love her too. She was a May baby, like Jane and me, passionate and tenacious. While Jane mourned the loss of her friend, I mourned never having known this remarkable woman.

Jane and her husband moved away from Omaha and now live in the Washington D.C. area. While we don't talk (and talk, and talk) like we used to, we have never lost touch, and I still consider her a "best" friend.

A few years ago, she sent me a copy of a short story she wrote about her own cancer scare, called Suspicious Densities. She has since turned it into a screenplay for a short film.

This film needs to be made, and Jane needs our help to do it.  I'll let her tell you about it herself.



I am almost 60 years old, and the longer I live, the more I am touched by cancer. A step daughter who we almost lost to Leukemia, is 20 years cancer free and now has two beautiful children of her own. A friend who is going to take off a few weeks from work, after a mammogram detected the tiniest of a stage one cancer. A sister who had a lumpectomy and a few treatments and is now fine, fine, fine.

But when I was very small, before mammograms, my mother found a lump. It could have been a death sentence, or a cyst. Only major surgery determined it was a cyst. But she didn't know until she woke up from surgery.

My messages today: face life with joy, get a mammogram, a prostate exam, whatever, and help my very talented friend Jane tell her story. You won't regret it!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

January 9, 1912

*It was a Tuesday.
*The U.S. Marines invaded Honduras.
*Rudolph Steiner Was in Munich, and gave a Lecture, "Esoteric Studies, Cosmic Ego and Human Ego".
*Colonel Theodore Roosevelt announced that he would run for president if asked.
*Sometime during that month, sixteen wooden lifeboats, along with four collapsible canvas-sided boats, were fitted on board the Titanic.
*At 4pm, at home, 2429 East 23rd St., in Oakland, Ca, my father was born. My grandmother was 27 years old, my grandfather was just two months shy of 30. On the birth certificate my Grandmother's maiden name was misspelled.






He was baptized on June 12th of that year at All Soul’s Episcopal Church (Chapel?) in Berkeley, California, with his mother's maiden name as his middle name, though this was dropped after his sister was born ten years later. Why exactly we don't know for sure, but a note by his father in the Family Bible says he dropped the middle name when he was 12 years old and "...has thereafter been known as John Lansdale Jr." He attended Virginia Military Institute, where he was a boxer (lightweight). After graduation he attended Law School, at which time he applied for a Rhodes scholarship, and was a finalist, but missed the last cut. He scored a 90 on the Ohio Bar exam in 1937, the highest score of the 404 who sat for the test. During World War II, when he was barely thirty, he was responsible for keeping the secret that ended the war. No pressure there...


It's the centennial of my father's birth. All that stuff I just told you about happened before I was born. Here's what I personally remember. The smell of his cheek when he would lean waay down to kiss me when he came home from work.

 I remember his cheek as being a little cold, from those snowy Cleveland winters, and a little scratchy, as it was the end of a work day. I remember sitting on his lap, while he read poetry to me... Specifically, Wynekn, Blynken, and Nod one night Sailed off in a wooden shoe...*






He liked to watch "Perry Mason" and "Harrigan & Harrigan" on Television, shows about lawyers, of course.

He loved to garden. He had a suburban "farm" and we ate fresh corn, tomatoes, squash, even potatoes from it all summer long. As a small child, I would go for "walks" with him through the garden in the early summer evenings after dinner and we would chat amiably about whatever it is a grown man and a small child chat about.

When he was in his late 40s, he built a small "wine cellar" in the basement. Okay, it was a closet under the stairs, but he was proud of it. He staged elaborate wine tastings at the dinner table. I remember hearing the phrase " a very good year".

He admired Winston Churchill for pursuing his love of painting, and himself began painting in oils in the mid 1960s. He took a mail order course, and he would ask teenaged me to critique is work. He was prolific enough that after his death, there were enough paintings for each of us five children to own several. I love that I have my father's painting of the Grand Traverse Bay that he did one summer when he and I drove up to visit Interlochen, Michigan, where I attended Music Camp.

He took thousands of slides. He photographed his life, his children, his travels with my mother. Sadly, few are of him, as he was the photographer.

I remember him asking "What did you learn at school today?", or saying, "today is the Vernal Equinox, be sure to tell your teacher"; "you live in the greatest country in the world. You can be anything you want to be, you can do anything you want to do."

I also remember him saying, "a college education is important, your husband might die."

The man had a stone ear, but he loved music. He loved "The Mitch Miller Show" where we followed the bouncing ball. He loved Barber Shop quartets and bagpipe music.

He loved technology; he was the first on his block to have a color T.V. and a Stereo. He wrote love poems to my mother, and songs, composed to the tune of "The Old Mill Stream", or "The Banks of the Wabash" for a social organization of lawyers in Cleveland of which he was a member, that put on an annual topical play each year.  Towards the end of his life, he would travel from his home in Maryland, to Cleveland, just for these events.

He loved to drive fast. He loved cars. He had a Triumph TR-3, and then another one after a thief temporarily broke his heart by stealing the first. Riding in that car, top down, in the rain, he would say, "Don't worry, once we're moving along, you won't get wet". Sometimes he was right, but I also remember hunching down under a half zipped tonneau in a rainstorm. When driving, he wore a joyful red beret.

In his fifties, he started to run. I have written about this previously, but he is still my inspiration for healthy exercise to this day.

He was a man who loved his life. He loved his wife, his five daughters. He loved his work, the practice of law.

He approached every aspect of his life with serious Joy. Today he would have been a hundred years old, had he lived, and I still miss him every day.




*you can find the full text here: http://www3.amherst.edu/~rjyanco94/literature/eugenefield/poems/poemsofchildhood/wynkenblynkenandnod.html
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Location:Omaha, NE

Monday, January 2, 2012

Parades and Football

It's the second day of the year.  Most Bloggers are waxing poetic about New Years' resolution lists, ad nauseam.  Most of my own list-making comes in May, around the time of my personal New Year, the anniversary of my birth, so I don't waste too much time in January stressing about such things.  Personal disclosure, last May, my resolution list began and ended with one. 
Laugh more.

I spent most of yesterday thinking about two things, what I wanted to write about in this blog, and why were all the parades and college football games moved to Monday?  

Forgive me a little rant.  On New Year’s Day, each year, January First, I expect to roll out of bed, make some coffee, and turn on the TV to watch the Tournament of Roses Parade, and then a whole bunch of football games.  So yesterday morning, I woke up, made my coffee, opened my paper, and clicked on the remote, only to see...  Newt Gingrich, not covered with a gazillion tiny cornflowers and poppy seeds or whatever.  

Hmm, wrong channel maybe?  Click!  What's this? An Infomercial?   Click!  More Standard Sunday Morning Stuff. Hmph. I wanted to see marching bands and Palomino Ponies fahcrissakes, not Meet the Press. 

It is at times like this that some personal affirmations are in order.

     I love Change.
     Change is Good.
     I embrace Change.
   
  (Okay, okay. That may qualify as a list.)

Today, I am happy to say, finally feels Iike New Year's Day.  I got up, drank coffee, went for a walk in a brisk Nebraska January wind, came home to a warm breakfast while watching, yes!  Palomino Ponies.  Marching Bands.  Huge floats covered with thousands, no, millions of flower petals!

At lunch, I started watching College football.  As I write these words, I am still watching College football.  I expect to spend the rest of the day... Watching College Football. It is a joyful activity for me, even when my team loses.   

I'll segue now back around to where I started on this.   New Year's Resolution Lists, or my lack of them.  Here is a little pearl of wisdom I'll drop in your lap, dear reader, dear friend.  A little bit of common wisdom that is so wise it is often mistake for cliché.  Every day is New Year's Day.  Every day is a day for a list.  So here's my list for this New Year, and for every new year:

     Laugh more.