The meaning of memorial

Technically speaking, the word memorial means a record or a memoir. It also indicates something commemorative or that preserves a memory. For us, this weekend is specific to those who have served our country and who perished while doing so. It is a time for reflection and for respect.

While doing genealogical research, I discovered an important aspect to my mother’s paternal line. Much of her family came from Ireland during the hungry time in the mid 1800s. I was surprised to find my Scottish great, great grandfather had served in the Civil War and died of a gunshot wound…in New Orleans of all places. So what was a guy from Scotland via Albany, NY, doing fighting in New Orleans?

He was a member of the NY 131st Infantry, also known as the Metropolitan Guard. The unit was raised in New York City. New York City? But he lived in Albany. There is a great deal that is unknown about these circumstances. I will leave it at that. But his war records show the documentation of a wound sustained during the Port Hudson conflict. He was taken to University Hospital in New Orleans where he died almost two months later.

James Pringle was buried in a now defunct cemetery that was paved over to form Canal Boulevard in New Orleans. As far as I can learn, his remains were never reinterred elsewhere. Thus I am unable to pay my respects. At a time when our country is so divided, our past shows how divisiveness is destructive. There is no memorial to James Pringle to commemorate his 46 years of life.

When I was almost 11 years old, I visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. It had a profound effect on me. I went to the library when I returned home and learned what I could about this tradition. The inscription touches my very soul.  “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.” Is it glorious to die in battle? I have to think it’s pretty horrible but should respect anyone who has made that sacrifice.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is a lasting memorial to those who died while defending the rights and freedoms of our country. It is a tangible place to mourn our losses just as other numerous military cemeteries do. One of the most poignant to me is the American Cemetery in Normandy. So many boys were never able to come home. They reside for eternity in a beautiful place, interred in a country they fought to defend as allies.

John McRae, a Canadian poet and physician, penned his most famous poems “In Flanders Field” after the burial of one his friends. I will spare you the tedium of dissecting it but it is a blend of beauty and loss.

In Flanders Fields
    In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow
          Between the crosses, row on row,
       That mark our place; and in the sky
       The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

        We are the dead, short days ago
      We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
       Loved and were loved, and now we lie
             In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
       The torch; be yours to hold it high.
       If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
             In Flanders fields.

It is ironic that this iconic doctor died of pneumonia just prior to the end of the war.

Preservation of our memorials is as important as our preservation of history. They mean something. They are part of us, like it or not. They speak for the dead.

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So, here’s the story…

I love stories. I love to hear stories and I love to tell stories. Stories were a large part of my teaching style. Students thought I was just using up time but 95% of the time, the stories related to what we were studying. That’s the beauty of language and experience. So much of it is relatable.

“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” –Hopi American Indian proverb

I can identify with this quote from the Hopi culture. I’ve read numerous offerings of Native American literature: novels, plays, poetry, traditional legends. Not many tell a story better than Native Americans. On the surface it’s a tale of events and people, but below the surface its teeming with metaphor and life lessons. I used quite a few different pieces in conjunction with my teaching over the years and a Sherman Alexie novel, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, was taught in our ninth grade curriculum. It was a great opportunity to introduce the students to so many things they’d probably never known existed, including some of our local Iroquois culture.

“The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.” –Mary Catherine Bateson

I find this concept to be very true. We do think in metaphors, so many of them becoming phrases we use continually. Since you may have forgotten what a metaphor is: it’s a literary device used to make comparisons, often imaginative, between unlike things. For example: life is a highway, you have ants in your pants, love is a journey…you get the idea.

Metaphors may allow us to visualize.  “He could hear Beatty’s voice. ‘Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly. Beautiful, eh? Light the third page from the second and so on, chainsmoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the second-hand notions and time-worn philosophies.’” Fahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury Here we get a glimpse into the act of burning a book. light the first page and the second. It becomes a black butterfly. A thing of beauty you are using to destroy all of those hateful words and unfulfilled promises that literature offers.

Sometimes the concept is simple.  “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” —Will Rogers

Another great idea about story telling comes from Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” This particular quote speaks to me and, I’m sure, to many other writers. It’s like the premise of dying with your song still inside you. Though I’ve told thousands of stories over the years, there is still much more I need to say. Many of the stories I’ve told contain humor. Humor is a natural element of my personality. I love a good laugh, unless its at the expense of others. Laughing is good for the soul. But, please, don’t ever fall down in front of me. I will ask if you’re okay but then I will laugh like a hyena. It’s some weird release from within. Trust me, I’m a champion faller and I will not be upset of you laugh yourself silly. And yes, I have a few epic stories about falling.

It’s a hard line to draw between stories we tell and stories we’d like to tell. Those often remain in the mind and imagination of the teller. Maybe they aren’t appropriate, or are too personal. Roy Orbison sings about it in his song “In Dreams,”

In dreams I walk with you
In dreams I talk to you
In dreams you’re mine all of the time
We’re together in dreams, in dreams
…”

Our dreams seem to reveal our innermost thoughts and desires. To me, storytellers are also dreamers. Perhaps some dreams are not meant to be attainable but what’s the sense of dreaming if that’s what you believe?

Author Tim O’Brien tells the reader in The Things They Carried, “But this too is true: stories can save us.” Stories help to keep things alive in our memories and to cope with our losses. If we tell the stories, then the people and events are never lost. Think about it. I’m sure you have a story that fits the bill. Tell it to us.

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positive influences

By the way, in response to my previous blog post two folks called and chatted with me. It meant a great deal.

I know many of us older, cranky people talk about how much better it was in the olden days. Much of it was, actually. We kids weren’t over-booked with activities; we didn’t have helicopter parents; we lived in a slightly safer world. That’s not to say we didn’t drink out of the garden hose, rode our bikes behind the town truck spraying mosquito killer, played on all metal jungle gyms, shared a bottle of soda with several friends, rode in cars without seat belts, you get the idea.

It was kind of a wholesome life. Many kids had moms who didn’t work outside of the house. Even those of us with moms who did work, they managed to have a hot dinner on the table for us most nights. We were taught manners, respect for ourselves and for others. As a girl, it was impressed upon me not to let a boy take liberties because I wouldn’t be respected. Besides, I think it made dating a little more exciting if we were still discovering romance rather than counting conquests. It made dating more meaningful in my opinion.

I digress. Two things were instrumental in shaping my life (other than family): books and television. As mentioned in other posts, I was a goofy kid. I was a blend of funny, spontaneous, imaginative, active, bookish, and very shy. I loved to play and if it was outdoors, all the better.

But I also enjoyed watching television. We had a smallish tv when I was a kid, maybe a 14″ screen. It was black and white and we had to get up and change the channel manually. There were a total of three channels. Captain Kangaroo ruled the mornings. Afternoons featured many choices such as My Favorite Martian, My Mother the Car, The Munsters, The Addams Family, Gilligans Island, and a host of others. One of my favorites on the weekend was ABC’s Wide World of Sports where “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” was captured on film for us to watch. I remember watching arm wrestling one week only to see a competitor’s arm break during the match. Didn’t faze me in the least. Now it would give me the dry heaves. And heaven forbid if the show was interrupted and the words “Special Report” appeared in large letters on your screen. We kids in the 60’s saw that a lot as we were witness to many political assassinations.

And the Cold War always hovered just behind us. Our basements were stocked with canned goods, sterno, and bottles of water. Not the type of bottles you see today, but real glass bottles that had once contained juice, milk, or other products. Living in a city that had a missile silo made me all too aware of the threat. Yet, we carried on.

Kids these days will never know the thrill of watching a space shot or a splashdown. A thrill to see the launch but we never knew if they were going to return or not. It was a joyous event when they did. Classes were often stopped for us to be taken into the cafeteria or gym to have 200 of us watch the event on a single 19″ tv set. Then there were the magical sleepy afternoons of fall when we might catch a glimpse of a World Series game. Or if one was lucky enough to own a transistor radio with an earphone, it was brought into school and hidden in the desk. That student’s job was to provide score updates.

I don’t know. Things were good back then. It was fairly uncomplicated. We appreciated what we had and didn’t expect things like $700 cell phones to be handed to us. If we wanted stuff, we saved for it. We mowed lawns, babysat and did odd jobs for the neighbors. We stuck with our part-time jobs as it spoke well for our work ethic. Kids have jobs du jour now. and their work ethics are often horrible.

I don’t deign to return to those days. But, as a memory, it was a special time. A time that had an impact on my character, on my morals, and ethics. I’m proud to be a product of those days. It means something to me. I will touch on reading another time.

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Let’s talk…

Social media provides almost instant gratification. We are used to it and expect it. And that’s nice to an extent. But it’s two dimensional. It’s hard to really know what a person’s tone or mood is, unless they’re like me who tends to be brusque and clipped when I’d prefer to talk rather than type.

Today was one of those days when I wanted to talk to a friend, someone who understands me. But I’m hesitant to reach out because most of my friends have families or other responsibilities. Or I reach out and someone doesn’t want to converse. I’d have to say this has been the way of it for much of my life. I often felt I was always the one to initiate contact and after a while one feels one is being a pest or that the other party maybe doesn’t want to speak with me. Whatever.

Perhaps it’s a downside to living alone. But 99% of the time I have no problem keeping busy and it’s rare for me to feel lonely. I didn’t feel lonely today, just wanted to connect with a friendly voice. I generally speak with the same few people each day. But today I wanted to connect with different folks. What I got was crickets.

Due to the fact I’m not one to be overt, I feel some don’t perceive the subtlety of the way I reach out at times. However, some get it right away and back off. That’s kind of sad, for me anyway.

At these times I turn to music or books. Some of them get how I feel but they don’t talk back. Sometimes you just need someone to listen and respond. I’ve always got a great deal swirling through my head. It’s just the way I am. And there are days that I definitely feel I can’t keep juggling all of the balls. I never drop them, though.

One of my favorite 80s power anthems came to the rescue this evening. I’ve always enjoyed listening to Heart and their song “Alone” has been flipping through my mind:

“I hear the ticking of the clock
I’m lying here the room’s pitch dark
I wonder where you are tonight
No answer on the telephone”

Naturally, this song is about desire and relationships but that’s not how I’m looking at it. Just wanted to talk to someone and the feeling of loneliness in the song was akin to my feelings. There you have it, sometimes it’s just simple.

So, when you have some time, let’s chat.

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Thanks for stopping on your way through…

Smiles, expressions, funny quips…all things delivered in a heartbeat or less. Yet, they may be remembered for eternity. Within the last several years, two women who reside in my memory departed this life through their own decisions.

I became acquainted with one of them in high school. She was funny, quirky, smart, and accomplished. She sang beautifully and participated on the tennis team. Her opponents were often flummoxed by her innate ability to switch hands while playing. It was unnerving to witness but it worked very well for her game. I only knew her in high school though our paths crossed in adulthood due to both of us living in our hometown. Little more than pleasantries passed between us.

We had taken different paths and didn’t seem to have much in common any longer. And we were both wrapped up in our own busy lives. Could I have been more willing to connect? Probably. I was content remembering the fun we’d had. Crazy sleepovers involving M&M’s fights, riding around in her mother’s green Duster, and flashing “the Fang.”

My other friend was a friend from adulthood though we attended the same high school two years apart. We didn’t run in the same social circles as teens but becoming an adult erases much of that. Thank goodness. We had loads of fun, loads of laughs, loads of memories. Just as with my high school friend, many of my memories include cookies, beer, and laughter. And smiles, so many smiles.

Each relationship harbors its own bunch of memorable quotes and vocabulary. Whenever something comes to mind I never cease to smile or laugh. I’m so thankful to have that part of them with me always.

Both of these women dealt with depression and mental health challenges. Both were caretakers for their mothers. Both were dearly loved by friends and family.

As someone who has dealt with depression daily for forty years, I know how they felt some of the time. I’ve also known that dark place where you don’t feel you can go on. I will never act on that thought yet I know how easy it could be. And I felt anger toward both of these gals that they took that step and left us behind. My calmer mind understands and is not angry except for the fact that they weren’t able to stay with us. I believe they are at peace, laughing among the angels, no longer depressed or anxious.

Betsy and Tracy, you enriched my life immeasurably in such different ways. It was an honor to be counted as a friend to each of you. So glad you stopped by to be part of my life.

Fly with the angels, my friends.

For those of us left behind. We need to grieve. There will be a time when I will smile always when I think of these two. Some words I find comforting come from The Band Perry’s If I Die Young:

“The ballad of a dove
Go with peace and love
Gather up your tears, keep ’em in your pocket
Save ’em for a time when you’re really gonna need ’em…”

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The Alone Girl travels

Most anything was worth it, the Alone Girl thought as she gazed out at the meadow. The grass had a hay-like smell and the world was clean and heavy with dew. In the near distance, the apparition of a lake of clouds. It was late summer in Vermont, the Jeffersonville area to be exact. The girl and her mother were visiting friends in Burlington who also had a lovely summer cabin in the nearby mountains.

An awkward time of life, the girl was about to enter the ninth grade. In an attempt to forge her own path, the girl was working on her look. Photos show a smoldering glance, almost obscured by long dark blond hair. The girl slouched in photos, not yet accustomed to the power of her figure, embarrassed by and self conscious of it. She would learn, in time, but it would be too late.

The benefits of visiting in Vermont were counterbalanced by the fact they would have to return, eventually, to New York. Time spent in an idyllic setting would evaporate just like the lake of clouds in early morning. It would seem like a dream, always like a dream. But it was real, truly.

The girl would spend an abundance of time with another girl who was socially awkward. The girl would classify her old acquaintance as “different.” And she was. But the girl was always kind to others, especially those who were different. Besides, it was companionship in a place where the activities were limitless.

On this day, the girls and their mothers were not slated to go to the old swimming hole. The mothers were headed to a nearby town for lunch and window shopping. The girls were on their own for the day. After an early lunch the girls headed down the small road for a visit to the cow pond at the nearby farm. They knew not to swim in it. It was loaded with leeches. But there was always a chance for a glimpse at the horses, the huge Belgian draft horses.

By noon, the sun was hidden behind thick clouds and the air was thick with moisture. The allure of the pond had passed and the girls were headed back to the cabin to read, one of their favorite pastimes. A jingling noise and the beat of heavy hoofs pounding on the dirt road captured their attention. They were horse crazy, after all. Two draft horses, in full harness, were creating powder puffs of dust as they made their way toward the girls. Two strapping young men were astride the horses. They were the boys from the farm and brothers. Hard to know their ages but they had to be in their late teens, bodies well muscled from their farm labor.

The girl’s friend knew them slightly and hailed them. They were in the process of dragging fallen logs from the woods back to the farm. Did we want to go with them? Without a backward thought, each of us swung up behind a brother. The Alone Girl was not used to riding a draft horse, her supple legs stretched to their limit. Her companion, Ben, encouraged her to hold on to him to keep steady. The fiercely independent girl resisted, she didn’t need a boy to tell her what to do. As they began their climb into the woods, she found herself losing her balance and grabbed the boy around the waist.

Up until this time, boys were fun to have around because the girl was proficient in athletics. She could throw and catch just as well as most boys and also excelled at kickball. This was different, though. Pressed against the back of a sweaty, muscular young man wasn’t such a bad thing, the girl decided. There was an underlying odor of the sweat of hard labor, but there was also a fresh smell of hay and sunshine. And the muscles she felt through the boy’s tee shirt were much more developed than the boys at home.

Disappointed when Ben swung down to hook up the lumber to be dragged back, the girl exchanged glances with her friend. It was hard to suppress grins. The horses were turned and they headed toward the farm where they knew comfort awaited them. Resolved to enjoy the ride back, the girl settled against Ben’s back and reveled in the experience. When they reached the smaller dirt road where the girls would get off, the boys helped them down. In a halting fashion, the other boy announced there was a square dance that Saturday and the girls were welcome. The Alone Girl explained she would be back in New York by then and her friend would be back in Burlington. Maybe another time, the boys said as they began leading the horses to the farm.

The Alone Girl knew there would never be another time. Instead she vowed to cherish that experience and store it in her memory for the long haul. The girls never divulged the experience to the adults. They knew they would have been reprimanded for running off with strange boys. Indeed, it’s a wonder the experience remained innocent. But innocent it was, and sweet. Whenever the air is thick with humidity and the smell of turned earth is prominent, the girl’s mind travels back to that sultry summer afternoon when her face rested against the boy’s back amidst the smell of his honest labor. And she knew boys would occupy a different place in her mind from then on.

Posted in fun, inspiration, nature, nostalgia, Reflections, settings, summer, transitions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Isn’t the past important?

I certainly think so. I’ve always stated that if I hadn’t majored in English, I would have majored in American History. To that end, I love reading and learning about our country’s history. looking at historical and social trends over the centuries is very interesting. Customs, traditions, and how they’ve come to be is well worth knowing. This allows us to understand how we’ve become who we are.

Up until the past twenty years or so there had been a longstanding tradition for brides to receive china, silver, and perhaps crystal. Brides would register at shops to receive the items they needed and desired. I suppose since our society has morphed into one where many young people cohabit before marriage, the need for household items isn’t so necessary.

There is no longer a desire for silver and china as possessions and I feel sad about that. Not only are the items beautiful, but much of it has been handed down from generation to generation. Because I love history and language, I love the stories that accompany many of these items. Many families worked so hard to complete a set of china and acquired it with great pride.

Now, I’ve been lucky enough to receive my grandmother’s china. She married in 1926. I also have some pieces of her mother’s (my great-grandmother). My grandmother was born in 1888 and her mother in 1865. I treasure these pieces.

When I was deemed trustworthy to care for the china, I was probably 45, I was thrilled to have it and afraid to use it. However, when I hosted the next holiday dinner for my small family both my uncle and my mother grew teary-eyed when talking about all of the family dinners they remembered. That’s how much my grandmother’s things meant to them. They weren’t just looking at dishes and silverware, they were spending time with the memory of their mother. I think this is sweet. And it never failed, each time I used it for a holiday dinner they teared up all over again and told some great stories. I was happy to provide this experience for them.

My grandmother originally had 12 place settings of both her china and silver. Many of the dinner plates were gone and over the years I’ve been able to replace them. Recently I bought 4 coffee cups and saucers. There had been no cups. Though the cups seem ludicrously small, I love them anyway. Last year I had decided to start having small dinner parties in order to use the china. Then the pandemic began. I’m still planning my idea for the future.

I’m dedicated to preserving these items and will try to leave some stories in my will to go with them. I hope I’m able to find someone who will treasure them even half as much as I do. At some point I will probably absorb my mother’s china and silver. Much of her crystal doesn’t survive. While her china pattern is very pretty, I vastly prefer my grandmother’s. But I prefer my mom’s silver pattern to that of my grandmother’s. Still, I’d be loathe to get rid of it. All of the silver is kept under lock and key and is not located in our houses, just in case someone gets ideas.

Here is a fun story from elsewhere within the family. When I was 15, my uncle took me, my mom, and grandmother to the Cape for a week. On the way back we stopped to stay overnight with my Aunt Marge. She was my grandmother’s only sister. As staid and formal as my grandmother was, Aunt Marge was just the opposite. She was full of fun, a little bawdy, and an excellent cook. She could also crochet an afghan faster than you could think about it. This was the mid 1970s. My grandmother was 85, so Marge was 79.

Right before we were to leave, Marge took my mother aside. She was holding a large and beautiful dark-blue Wedgewood pitcher. It seems as though when our people came over to Connecticut in the mid 1800s from Ireland, some of them worked as domestics in large mansions. A favorite practice was for the household help to play poker when the family was not at home. And, you guessed it, many of the winnings were filched from the home. With that, Marge handed over the pitcher to my mother. She said for her to take good care of it as it was earned the hard way. None of us had ever heard that story, including my grandmother. But she had moved away when she was married and may not have been privy to all of the family secrets. I have no reason not to believe my Aunt Marge and I’ve since heard some similar stories from other families.

It makes me sad that young people don’t seem to care for the past and the items related to such. I just hope it’s something they don’t come to regret. As for me, I love having those items around. It’s like a part of my family is still with me.

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When is enough, enough?

It is said one must confront one’s fears in order to conquer them. I guess I’ve always assumed the same is true for people and events that have hurt me in life. I’m finding that immersion is not always the best therapy for the stain of the past.

For almost a year we have staggered our way through a pandemic. It’s given many of us time to reflect. It’s given many of us the opportunity to reach out and demonstrate our care of others. And it’s given many of us the chance to move on from the past. Sometimes it’s a combination of all three.

For quite a few months, I’ve been participating in a Zoom call with people from my high school class. I’m told it began as a way for a bunch of guys (many of them frat brothers from back in the day) to check in with one another. This is a nice outreach. Guys are far more successful at uncomplicated friendships than women. Zoom is a safe place and it’s nice to see familiar faces from the past.

We all know high school is not an easy time for many teenagers. Teens are not always the nicest to one another and I grew up in a very nice suburb and went to a highly-regarded high school where most of us were expected to go to college, or at least a two-year school, after high school. Not only was our high school academically challenging, there were excellent sports teams, music, and art programs.

The time period in which I grew up (early 70’s) was not conducive to girls being recognized for much of anything beyond good looks. And heaven help you if you came from a home life that featured a single parent, unless the one parent was widowed. I heard lies for years about my mom being a single parent: she was rumored to have loud parties, entertain many boyfriends, and feed us a steady diet of hot dogs. The truth is: my brother was very musically inclined and played his stereo loud when my mother wasn’t home, my mother’s “boyfriend” was her brother who often stopped by to help us out or share a meal, and we would have loved to have been served hot dogs. My mother was an excellent cook and made us very balanced and wholesome meals. And yes, she went to night school two nights a week (the neighborhood women said she was going to bars) in order to obtain her Master’s degree to keep a roof over our heads. But my brother was a good cook and we sat down at the dinner table on the nights she was at school.

So much more could be told. Why wasn’t my father around? He had a drinking problem and caused verbal and physical abuse. That situation isn’t conducive to providing one with a great deal of confidence.

I liked school. It was a safe place for me. I didn’t have to anticipate putting myself in between my father and another family member in order to protect them. There was no hollering like my father did. It was calm and predictable. And I was a naturally curious kid who liked learning. My main issue was paying attention. My mind wandered more than Johnny Appleseed travelled throughout the United States. It was hard to concentrate and focus. I learned through attrition. I listened, even when my mind was elsewhere. And I read voraciously. For some reason my mind doesn’t wander when I’m reading. But my lack of focus made studying a huge chore. I was a good student but I didn’t test well. So be it. I ended up with a B.A., M.A., 30+ hours beyond my Master’s, and one year of MBA school.

My salvation in school, other than reading, was sports. I was confident in those abilities. I knew I would not fail. I had no musical talent, no artistic talent, no confidence in my writing skills. I had matured early, was not petite and felt so out of place. I did not know how to play the boy/girl game. And I was stupid enough to think that if I was at a party and a boy showed some interest, it was okay to go make out in the car. My Catholic guilt did not permit me to go further than that. But I was astonished when I saw the boy in school the next Monday and he paid not one bit of attention to me. He was a cocky kid, full of his athletic prowess and intellect in those days. It’s interesting to see, via the Zoom calls, his personality hasn’t changed much. I find it amusing. I’m sure he doesn’t even remember.

I was never brave enough to try stuff that I wanted to do. I wanted to take photography class but didn’t have a camera and couldn’t afford to buy one. Never would I have tried out for the Senior Play because I thought of myself as a big oaf who had no talent in anything except in making people laugh. I couldn’t sing but I could have danced or hammered nails into scenery. I was too afraid to try. I could hit balls, dribble balls, serve balls, catch balls, and throw balls. That’s what I did. Though I never played softball which was probably my best sport. Softball was conducted at the same time as tennis. I was expected to play tennis. I played tennis. I wanted to play softball.

It’s time. I’ve had enough. I will never be what I once was. But I am who I am now. I’m pretty satisfied with that. I’ve discovered writing as an adult and I love to write. I’m in the process of finishing a non-fiction project and then will turn my sights to finishing a mystery novel I began writing long ago. There’s still stuff I want to do. There is always hope for the future.

As a student and lover of language and literature, and occasional poet, I will leave you with some words from Bob Dylan. These describe my future:

“I see my light come shinin’
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released”

I Shall Be Released by Bob Dylan

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Driving through my mind…

Though I can see by the numbers that the years have passed, it just doesn’t feel that way within. Wasn’t it just last month that I was walking to elementary school? I could swear it was last week when I was in college. Then comes the flood of memories, marching through like some bizarre parade. The parade changes and takes different forms which is nice. One wouldn’t want the same damn parade all the time.

Cars dominate the latest parade. I like cars but I’m far from being a gear-head. Math and science weren’t my favorite subjects, even though my tenth grade vocational aptitude test pronounced I should be an engineer. Driving a train maybe, but not building things. I was good at driving and I loved any chance I could get to drive. Although I’ve often felt I’ve missed out on lots of scenery because I’m often the driver, I am not a good passenger thanks to a rather traumatic car accident I was part of in the third grade. I digress. There were few people I felt comfortable riding with and would have ridden through the gates of hell with them.

As a kid, my family had a station wagon. I’m so glad there weren’t mini vans in those days. There was nothing like riding in the station wagon and looking out of the back window. It incited a great deal of waving at other motorists. If we were traveling between Albany and Burlington, then the “way back” of the car became a resting place. It was easy for us kids to crawl over stuff and spread out to snooze. As we grew older boys were often drawn to hooking bumpers after a snowfall. This involved them hunching down and grabbing the back bumper of a car while the car was at an intersection. A great ride would ensue once the car accelerated. Keep in mind the kid was breathing exhaust fumes and could have met a bad end at any moment. But that’s kids for you.

High school involved all sorts of mischief with cars. Since cars were still rear-wheel drive there was a lot of doing doughnuts in empty parking lots or on someone’s lawn, perhaps. Gas was also less than 40 cents a gallon so you could ride around all night for 50 cents. Cars were also ginormous in those days so you could fit at least 6 kids in the average Plymouth Fury.

My first car came to me during college and it was a battered little thing. Thinking of how I drove it hither and yon causes me to shudder now because it was very flimsy and not in the greatest shape. Of course I went through a phase of having a “bad boy” boyfriend. He had the requisite souped-up muscle car and we did achieve some crazy speeds. Stupid. But I lived to tell the tale.

“So I remember when we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast, I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
And I-I, had a feeling that I belonged…” Tracy Chapman

Now that I’m older and more mature (so they say), a car is an end to a means for me. It needs to be dependable and I need to feel safe in it. I’ve had a long-standing series of Subaru vehicles. Every handful of years, a different color of car resides in the garage. It handles well, I can cram stuff in it if need be, and it’s easy on the knees when I get in and out.

This watered-down version of the car parade is missing several entries. Missing are some vehicles that have special meaning for me. But, tonight, I’m not willing to venture down a few of those roads. And there are my idea of dream cars, of which I will attain at least one before I become too decrepit to drive.

I’ve always wanted to involve myself in some sort of mission that involves restoring a car or making furniture from wood or some such thing where I could hang out in an old garage or indoor work space with some other people and do something constructive. Knitting and crocheting seem to pale in comparison. But I do them even though my patience wears thin. Honestly, I’ve also wanted to try my hand at pottery but I remain the kid whose clay art project always blew up in the kiln, so…Sometimes it’s just nice to sit and watch the car parade.

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The joy of resilience…

It occurred to me, as early as the Columbine shooting, that the real issue facing our country was not gun control but the lack of mental health treatment. Granted it doesn’t seem necessary for the general public to need fully automatic lethal weapons like AK-47’s, but I’m not here to talk about gun control. Instead I’d like to talk about the reality of stigmas and the damage they cause.

By definition, public stigma is a type of discrimination against a person because of a perceived characteristic. For example, centuries ago people who acquired leprosy were stigmatized by the general public because lepers were considered tainted and unclean. In today’s society many types of stigmas (figurative plural) exist. Wherever discrimination exists, or people are “frowned” upon, there lies stigma.

As an overweight person, I may be perceived as lazy and/or stupid. I’ve been told, “Gee, it’s too bad you cant get a handle on that weight problem.” How does one respond? I was brought up to be kind to everyone I encounter. That does not mean I won’t advocate for myself nor am I a doormat. Typically I smile and say, “Oh I know, I’m such a dolt.” Those savvy enough know I’m not pleased with the comment and those who aren’t savvy enough, well, they provide amusement.

Part of the stigma for being overweight is the assumption that I have complete control over it; therefore, there is no excuse for me to be overweight. Perhaps in their simple minds that’s the case. If you’ve ever known anyone who has struggled with weight issues, whether they binge eat, starve themselves, or binge and purge, it’s not a simple choice by said individual. It’s a complex issue and many never gain control over it just as some alcoholics or drug abusers never gain control over their addictions. These are illnesses, folks. They are not whims regarding failures of self-discipline.

I don’t speak much of mental illness because so many are not capable of understanding. Too many people still have the “pull yourself up by the boot straps” mentality. Or the ‘OMG, she’s mental!” belief. Might as well shoot yourself in the foot than to tell someone you have mental health challenges. It’s time for that to change.

If you look back over the public shooting in the past few decades, it’s easy to see that most of the perpetrators suffered from some sort of mental health issue. Of course, now the word “issue” even has a negative connotation as in, “OMG do you really think I have issues?” It’s a fate worse than death! In this case ‘issue’ is used to mean topic for debate and/or discussion. If you arrived at a different inference, shame on you.

If you have a sore knee, it is safe to say you have an orthopedic issue. If you fall and smack your head on the pavement, you may have a concussion issue in addition to an orthopedic issue. Follow my thinking? If you have chronic ear pain, you may have ear drainage issues. What?

Here’s the deal: I was diagnosed with severe depression and chronic anxiety disorder in 1982. I mean, if you’re going to have an issue you might as well do it up right. I was subject to panic attacks. People might assume I have this problem because I’m weak. On the contrary, I’m able to deal with this condition because I’m incredibly strong. I’m resilient. The more I’m kicked and pushed down, the faster I get up and thrive. I learned many coping mechanisms over the years. I’d say 98% of the time, no one would know I’m dealing with this illness. And the 2% is only seen by those closest to me. Never, ever, does it manifest in public.

Would people look at me and think I’m a mental case? No. Do I take medication to control my blood chemistry levels? Yes, I do. Have I ever abused my prescribed medication? No, I never have. Do I undergo counseling and/or therapy on a regular basis? Yes I do. Have I learned a great deal about psychological stuff in the past forty years of living with an illness? Yes, I have. Credit a quarter of a century as a high school teacher as well. I learned a great deal by observing and listening to my students during that time.

Does that make me an arm-chair psychologist? Heck, no. If I casually mention something to an acquaintance or friend about them perhaps exploring some of their issues, it comes from an abundance of concern. If over a period of time, an individual successively mentions a certain set of circumstances that occurred many, many years ago it raises a red flag in my mind. And when pressed for details, said individual won’t discuss despite mentioning the situation several times, that indicates unresolved issues in that person’s thinking (to me, that is my interpretation). Use common sense, if someone mentions a negative memory several times it assumes it has made an impact, either positive or negative. Again, this is my interpretation but based on my personal experience, I am often correct. Don’t jump to the conclusion that I need to be correct. I often hope I’m not.

It’s because I care that I might casually mention to a person that there might be some unresolved issues she/he might wish to explore. Most of the time it leads to a brief discussion and the individual is able re-frame or understand thoughts behind their thinking (or constant mention). It’s rare for someone to react vociferously and angrily, but it does happen. A person who rejects such thinking, calls me a name and is so impacted by being associated with having issues is a concern. No one’s life is perfect. Perfection is an ideal, it doesn’t truly exist.

At that point I have to sigh and remove myself from that situation. In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the character Queen Gertrude says, of an insincere explanation by another character, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” When I receive a virulent reaction like the one directly above, that line always runs through my head. I wasn’t applying a stigma, I was expressing a concern. If you choose not to see it, that’s on you. And my resilience has already healed your misinterpretation and disrespect.

N.B. This is not my graph. It was borrowed from the Internet.

Posted in life lessons, mental health, reality, Reflections, stigma, strong women, transparency | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment