Friday, May 31, 2013


In this age of technology sometimes we get lazy or forgetful or just plain careless.  I admit to this.  I have become complacent about things because I use facebook to track dates which I used to keep track of myself.  I have a calendar which, if a birthday, an event, an appointment doesn’t appear on it, it does not exist in my mind or my schedule.  I rail at those who can’t do simple math, relying on calculators and iPhones and yet I cannot read a map.  Our schedules are busy, our lives complicated.

But it wasn’t always this way.  We used to look forward to special events, marking them on our wall calendars, tracking them in our minds, planning and anticipating rather than logging on in the morning to see to whom we need to send a bit of good will.  Technology can be a wonderful thing, but it isn’t a replacement for human interaction or thoughtfulness.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when a dear friend of mine voiced her disappointment at having been completely overlooked on her birthday.  It was a VERY important birthday because this time last year it did not look as though she would still be with us.  I felt awful, knowing that I had let her down.  I went to facebook to see if somehow I had overlooked it.  It wasn’t there.  

Now I will admit, I am someone who doesn’t chance it myself.  My family forgot my birthday once, everyone did…when I turned 21.  Those who remembered were annoyed with me because I didn’t want to go drinking.  See, I wanted to go dancing because I was finally old enough to get into the clubs but since that wasn’t what they wanted, I spent the night alone.  Molly Ringwald style!  My brother has a history of NEVER knowing when my birthday is but feeling very guilty when he remembers a month later.  So years ago I developed the habit of calling my mom to ask her to “remind my brother” and that way he knew, she knew and everyone knew.  When she passed, I let my Dad in on the family secret and he continued the tradition.  For many years my best friend and I wouldn’t admit we had no idea when the other’s birthday was…we’d been friends for so long that it seemed reprehensible not to know until one day we both confessed and it turned out we were in the same boat all along.

The temptation of course, is to let oneself off the hook, to beg forgiveness and let it go.  But this experience brought up a larger issue in my mind.  Complacency.  The willingness to give over any responsibility and accountability to a machine, that ever encroaching void of anonymity that makes it ok to be just a little meaner, a little more thoughtless, a little more complacent because we are just sooooo busy!  Well, it’s bullsh*t.  We should never be too busy to show a little love to our friends.   I am truly sorry that I missed this, that I can’t fix it or salve it or make it better.  But I promise to be better, to make myself accountable and present as a friend.  And maybe turn off the computer and pick up the phone.  Maybe we all should once in a while.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Subject to Interpretation

So here it is, my 100th entry. Oh, I know in the end it may not end up being so, we shift things around and such but for now, this marks three years and one hundred (published) entries.  And it seems appro po that this should be my topic.

Coin-cidence.  It's something my father talks about all the time.  Not coincidence, which is events unrelated which happen together but seem to have some connection.  His interpretation, coin-cidence (pronounced ko in ‘SI den(t)s) is two things which happen together with the intention of some higher power or force beyond reckoning.  Things that were meant to happen, people we were meant to meet, whether it was from some unseen outside force, guiding us toward each other or the overwhelming power of our own subconscious minds.

It is something in which I strongly believe, as someone who has spent the better part of her life making plans which I had no idea how I was going to bring to fruition but believing that somehow I would find the means or it would find it’s way to me.   It was on my mind quite a lot yesterday, having spent the afternoon with two women who were gifted to me in a time when I really needed them.  We were colleagues and friends who became partners and sisters.  And something happened.  We all had our own challenges and it was like we were each there, in each other’s lives for a purpose which would not reveal itself until later.  But that sort of thing isn’t coincidence, it is coin-cidence.  I would attribute it to our astounding Artistic Director but unless she had precognitive powers, she could not have foreseen the events which were to unfold.  I don’t even know if they would have had this perfect partnership not happened.  Coin-cidence.  

Coin-cidence is when my father, who, steadily finding his new role in the world absent my mother and absent the job which he held for 35 years decides to join a group on public speaking is asked to make a speech on ethics to a company who’s questionable and criminal practices have directly impacted him.  Some would even call that justice, perhaps others divine intervention, but I call it coin-cidence.

Coin-cidence is a powerful and palpable force.  But I do think it is something you have to believe in, to want, because it isn’t the same as destiny because destiny is unalterable.  And in some ways, destiny is kind of lazy like waiting for something to happen but taking no active role in it.  And it is an easy excuse for inaction; “Destined to fail, destined to falter, destined not for greatness but for mediocrity.”  It makes the assumption that our actions, our thoughts, hopes, dreams and the relationships we cultivate have no impact on our future.  Coin-cidence though is the coming together of people, events, etc in a way to make things easier or more possible but it still requires an active role.  Rather than praying for something to happen, praying for the tools to make it happen.  Understand, I don’t generally pray.  I do talk to the Universe, the angels, even my relatives who have passed; particularly my Great Aunt who is in charge of all last minute parking emergencies.  No, I don’t hear voices, but I do get answers.  Some would say it is coincidence but to say that is to dismiss any effort on my part.

It’s funny, though I rarely pray because of my own issues not with a higher power but with organized religion and ritual in general, I still would never dismiss it because praying can be a very active exercise and as I sat down to write, feeling this swell of joy and happiness in my heart, I received a message from a friend of mine, someone who reached out to me, literally from the Abyss, at a difficult time in my life.  The message was personal, detailing her struggle and asking for prayers, for healing thoughts and for strength.  I had it in spades.  Coin-cidence. 

There are times when we have to reach into our empathic reserves, like an adrenaline rush which allows a mother to lift a car from her injured child, into a well of love that so often we feel sure is dried up and cracked with age and abuse.  But here is the wonderful thing about love.  When you dip into the well, often and deeply and with the best of intentions, regardless of the outcome that well replenishes itself.  It is an endless resource which strangely enough becomes more plentiful the more it is shared.

As I look back over the events of the last three years and take stock of how much has happened and even, giving myself some credit, how much I have made happen, I can’t help but be a little overwhelmed and grateful to be able to add a little more to the well.  But I know this quest of self-discovery, though an independent journey was hardly done alone.  All along the way I have met people who have guided me, supported me, even challenged me to clear this beautiful path I am on of all the obstacles which I had put there.   Of course the road is not always easy, it is not always clear, but for the first time in many years I can say with certainty, it is mine.  Coin-cidence, you were just waiting for me to call on you.

Now if this was a movie, this would be the end.  There would be a swell of music, a long slow fade of some young woman’s fit and lovely backside clad in a white dress, as the titles rolled by.  I’d like to think I’d be played by someone younger and ethereal, far more attractive than the reality and massively talented; not just another Hollywood name to sell the tickets.

But this isn’t a movie, this is real life which means it has no end.  Well it has a rather definitive end but hopefully not now.  Instead, I simply close one chapter and begin another.   It doesn’t mean we forgot, it just means we move on, hopefully forward, but at least not backward.  Maybe sideways.  But we keep moving.  Yesterday as I was wrapping up with one of my friends, we were comparing notes on how our lives have changed since that initial meeting.  We’ve stopped sweating the small stuff because cliché or not, life is too d*mned short.  But as we were talking it occurred to me that an awful lot of people sleepwalk through their lives, fearing the path before them, regretting the path behind.  Every minute of that is precious.  Even in the hardest moments, there is beautiful and love and grace.  If I have learned nothing else, that message has been ingrained in me time and time again.  That and there are no coincidences, only coin-cidence.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Seven Days

Today I was thwarted in my efforts to get to work, so much so that at last I gave up this fruitless exercise, preferring to return home and get a few other things ticked off the ever growing preparation list for Edinburgh and for life, the next chapter.  I spent a productive and eerily satisfying afternoon working with my senile, octogenarian cat sleeping contentedly on my lap wrapped loosely in the folds of my sweater.  

It’s hard to watch him aging, edging ever closer to the abyss which took his brother less than a year ago.  Each day I see his world grow smaller and dimmer, as his sight and senses fail him and now, his own body.  He stopped jumping on the bed; today I think he even fell down the stairs.  I have to place him in front of his food bowl or he doesn’t know it’s full and now, sometimes, he cries, lost in the shadows of a house which does not grow more familiar until I find him and hold him and reassure him that all will be well.  

I don’t speak cat.  I don’t know how much he understands; I only know it must be terrifying at times to lose control of that which once was so simple, to not understand how or why it is happening and my only mercy is that he probably lacks the memory from moment to moment to be truly afraid.

It isn’t like that for people.  I was reminded tonight, as so often I am, of my mother.  Her passing was not quiet, it was not simple and it was not natural.  There were times when she was sick where we felt helpless, hopeless even; times we were sad, times we were angry, and many days where I don’t even think she knew anymore what was happening.

My mother’s disease was insidious.  It had no outward symptoms.  It had no predictable time table.  It didn’t really have a name.  Yes, there was Lupus.  Yes, there was Diabetes.  Yes, there was even Alcoholism.  But there was something else there too, something soul crushing and confusing, the symptoms of which were not a disinterest in life but rather a “F*ck all” attitude about death.  

My mother wasn’t simply one day unhappy but disappeared over time, backed from the light and retreated into the shadows of despair.  I didn’t see it right away and forever I shall probably bare guilt for that.  But that isn’t what I was thinking about tonight.  

Instead, my little kitty, so small and frail, lying in my lap reminded me that in the midst of the worst moments in your life, there is still beauty and joy.  That’s what I was remembering.  

By the time my mother went into the hospital, never to return, she was already in an altered mental state and went into a coma.  That was hard to see but that week at the hospital, sad as it was, was filled with joyful moments celebrating my mother’s life.  

The day after my mother arrived in the hospital, my best friend showed up.  She walked into the room and said, “Polly, I need you to pay attention.  I need you to hear this.  I wanted you and Laurel to hear this at the same time.  We’re pregnant.  So you need to get better, because you are going to be a grandmother again.”  She’d driven two hours to tell us this.  I still tear up thinking about it.

The priest came by to give my mother Last Rights.  We were never a terribly religious family, my parents both equally lapsed Catholics but we figured at this point, it couldn’t hurt.  Father Patrick.  A good Irish Catholic.  A good man too.  We also had a Rabbi and a Priestess…yes, even in her dying hours my mother was having the last laugh.

The next day the Priest came by and, noting the remarkable change in my mother, she had gone from yellow to human overnight, he said, “She looks better.”  

“I know,”  I replied.

“It’s a miracle.”

“You’re telling me.”  He came by three more times to visit and three more times to give her the last, last, ok probably this will be the last Last Rights.

My father came from work; don’t judge him, he had to go to work for a bit of normalcy, and gave her a big kiss, telling her about the Raccoon he saw in the garbage can and we all watched with perhaps too much hope the heart monitor take a little jump.  The doctors kept telling us not to read too much into it, they never want to raise your hopes or expectations, but there was Father Patrick, telling us to have faith and praying with all his might for this wonderfully flawed woman.  I don’t think he was praying for her recovery so much as for her acceptance of whatever was to be, and for the love of our family to carry us through.  

My sister came home for what was now a death vigil.  On the third day, we noticed the sad state of our mother’s fingernails.  Now one thing you should know about my mother, she loved a good mani-pedi…and she was fearless with them.  She would get little pictures painted on, wear the brightest colors imaginable, did not match her fingers to her toes and loved anything shiny!  So we decided that what she needed was a coma-induced day of beauty.  We brought in all the supplies, snuck in as contraband because it occurred to us that they probably wouldn’t approve of the fumes while she was on oxygen but it was pretty clear we weren’t doing any more damage.  We cleaned her hands and washed her feet.  We buffed off the dry skin and rounded the rough edges.   It was the first time we, as sisters, were taking care of our mother.  It felt like a ritual, like we were returning her to some earlier state, and although she was very young, it felt right for us to now take care of our mother in her time of need; repayment for the years of love and service she had given us without condition or limitation.   

And for a few hours, she got better.

Day four was the worst.  That was the day the doctors pulled us aside, asked who wanted to be present for the discussion and confirmed she was not coming back.  We had to decide, what measures were to be taken?

I have seen my father cry only three times in my life, and each time was when someone in his family was in danger.  He cried when I lay sick in the hospital though he thought I couldn’t see him.  I know him to have cried over each of us at some moment, frightened he would lose us, but this time was different because he wasn’t crying out of fear.  He was crying out of despair and regret.  He was crying because he was losing the love of his life and nothing would ever be the same.  And he was crying because he couldn’t not cry.  And it was strangely beautiful.  It was this incredibly intimate moment between us and I was able to comfort him.   Through me, my mother was able to comfort him, because on our last outing, in the midst of her impending dementia, she had two lucid hours, and in those hours, she told me exactly what she wanted.  My mother was never one to waste an opportunity.  

The papers were signed, the decisions made.  There were two more days and another round of Last Rights.  And finally, the moment arrived.  Our family gathered around.  They turned off the machines.  We held her hands and said our goodbyes.  The room was so quiet.  The nurses turned off the sound of the heart monitor so that we could watch as the beat slowed but were saved from the torturous slowing beep, beep, beeeeeeeep.  We held each other and watched our mother slip away.  I brushed the hair away from my mother’s face and whispered my goodbye.  But I did not kiss this vessel, not after she was gone.   Many times before, but not after.  We left.  And wept.  And began the strange dance of mourning.  But even in this, there was celebration.   

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Death of Service Part I

I’ve recently returned from a very eye opening adventure through the Midwest.   Now I will admit, I probably live in a bit of a customer service excellence bubble.  I grew up in the service industry working my way through college at the local dinner theatre, honing my craft while slinging drinks, paying for school and a wedding with a smile and a wink.   I ran an arts studio, reliant on reputation and service and the creation of a community that felt they were making an important contribution to the future and getting a much more cultured day care in dance and music than sitting at a TV.  I worked on a cruise ship, the ultimate in indulging every whim of the uber rich.  And growing up in cities that were tourist dependent meant even on the worst days, the service was far from adequate.  So I will confess that perhaps my expectations for an average, all-American small town community service industry might be skewed but oh my g*d, I don’t think I had any idea of how far we have slid. 

I suppose in my brain, having visited every summer the small town of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, I had this sort of nostalgic 1950s fudge and sweet shop, soda jerk, penny candy colored glasses view of the world.  So when I rolled into town, famished beyond reckoning, I never expected to be so hindered in my efforts.  I had to resort to fast food, something I am vehemently opposed to, but time wasn’t on my side so I pulled into the local DQ to get a blizzard, one of my great weaknesses.  I used to always stop and get a blizzard on the way to the beach each summer, sort of my own travel tradition and the only time I actually bought one.  So it felt right at the end of this long cross country trek to reward myself with this little vise.  I pull into the drive thru and place my order and when I pull up to the window, there is a girl there leaning half on, half out the window, looking ever so much like a victim of some sort of zombie apocalypse.  Her dead hand takes my money and returns to me my frozen treat but my companion and I make a pact never to return.   Not to be defeated, we journey on to another of our fast food locations to order some actual sustenance.  I order a chicken sandwich sans mayonnaise due to my illogical fear of secret sauces of any kind, a victim of early onset urban myth. 

“No mayonnaise?  So you just want your chicken plain?  Without anything?” comes the disembodied voice, the disdain clearly present even through the thick Midwestern tongue.  Timidly I ask for barbeque sauce, fearing the retribution on the other end of that machine.   We complete our order and start to pull around as we hear, “That’ll be $17.49”  We pull up to the window, which does not open, as the angry, bored girl purposefully ignores us, then notices that the coffee pot, which was meant to have held my companion’s fresh cup of coffee is empty.  She sighs and starts to empty the grounds.  They have not even begun making the coffee yet!!  I shift uncomfortably, waiting to address her as to the origins of a $17 fast food order for two and she walks away, presumably to get new coffee grounds and refill the machine.  At last, we give up and pull away, hungry but reassured, we will do better at our next location…we do not!