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Posts from August 2014

The Elegance of Falling

Red Hook Brooklyn

Red Hook, Brooklyn. A gritty/dangerous to gritty/semi-gentrified neighborhood. (IKEA to the left)

It turns out that I broke my shoulder going to the bathroom. A friend said that I need a better story, but I’m sticking to it. As I told him, it’s in the banality of life that I find what to write about; thus, this fall fits right in.

I landed so hard on my left shoulder that, as the doctor put it, “There’s a break where the ice cream part of the shoulder meets the cone part.” A less metaphorical friend said, “It’s the socket.” I need to be in a sling for a few weeks, with limited use of my left arm. Luckily, I’m ambidextrous and my writing these days is done with a keyboard and not with a pen tensely held in my left hand. Luckily, too, I use my right hand to write on the board, so systems are somewhat ready for school days. The orthopedist told that my threshold for pain is high, which, ridiculously, feels like an accomplishment. It is not bad, as things go.

I’m using this down time effectively, in a balanced way. On the negative side: making myself feel bad about my lack of summer accomplishments and how my weight has stabilized at too high a number (according to the scale at the doctor’s office and pants shopping) even after drastically cutting down (home-based) carbs. On the positive side: reading. You would think that a writer and English teacher would let herself relax into reading, terming it an accomplishment and a worthy activity, but I don’t; the exception being if the book brings to life a dark moment in history. I’m on a roll with novels about children during World War II. So that works. Now that the end of summer is fast approaching, I’m letting in a little yearning to read about yearning before it’s too late. (When I was in New York, my sister-in-law showed me the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey and breathlessly explained the story, thinking that it would entice me. It didn’t.)

I’m also balancing the inner reflection part of summer by watching Robin Williams clips and reading about Gaza, Israel, anti-Semitism, Yezidis, Iraq, Syria, Michael Brown, Ferguson, Ebola, and thinking about the deaths of my three acquaintances. My, how this summer has just breezed along! Are summers always so intense, so tragic? As Shakespeare put it:

The day is hot, the [Capulets] are abroad.

And if we meet we shall not 'scape a brawl,

For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.

(Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, scene 1, lines 2-4)

Why is it so hard to overcome evil, sweat or not?

For years I have been reading about anti-Semitism, striving to understand it. But how do you comprehend incessant, violent hatred even if it masquerades as something intellectual or religious or economic or racial? It seems to me that it persists as proof that evil exists and will always need to be fought and defeated. It is not for one generation to create a golden brick road for all of us to prance upon; no, each generation needs to determine if theirs is a generation that will skip along caring or at least tolerating each other, or will their generation tug at that war of good and evil, or will theirs let the evil spill and spread like oil on water.

At a certain point the unendingness of anti-Semitism and oppression and attempts at genocide, of one group being so offended by the existence of another group that it seeks its destruction, is too hard to process. But there is no alternative. If anything, this summer has taught me that we all live with so much pain that perhaps it is this personal-power that can contend with the dehumanizing group-power of hate. From pain surely comes hate, but so, too, may it be the source of empathy, of seeing that we are tied to others by more commonalities than we were aware.

This summer I fell and broke a bone. I don’t devalue my pain compared to other people’s (well, not too much); it does give me a point of partnership. But did I really need it? What does it take to be a good person in a world that constantly veers toward evil? In a car you can adjust the alignment. If only it were so simple.

During a class at the Holocaust Museum a few years ago I learned the concept of the four types of people: victim, perpetrator, rescuer, and bystander. The bystander has been vilified as letting the evil of the world roll on and on. But I wonder if the bystander should be so negatively interpreted. Do I, a seemingly passive person, not act to propel the positive forces of my understanding of life? Do I not live, in my teeny footsteps, as if I am part of a wave that strives for whirled peas (world peace)?

I remember reading that some Holocaust survivors said that they thought their mental rebellions counted as just that, rebellion. I also read about inmates in labor camps de-bombing the bombs they were supposed to be making for Nazi Germany. I wonder if the force of internal resistance is more than we think, and if believing in it, we end up doing more active resistance and insistence. Aren’t we more motivated to push ourselves, to be ourselves, when we aren’t cowering in self-doubt? Isn’t it better to be underwhelmed and, thus, capable, than overwhelmed and non-propelled?

Years ago my daughters laughed at me for being the bag lady when I went to the supermarket. Now I save 5 cents with each bag I bring. I used to have to search for Fair Trade coffee, now it’s available in Costco.

The anguish felt when witnessing pain is the core strength within humanity that has any chance at defeating, even momentarily, the ever-burgeoning cancer of hate. It is not to feel that my pain is not serious enough, my input is not worthy enough, my giving is not valuable enough; it is to live knowing that my compassion is to be trusted as a guide propelling me from pain, into pain, to attempt to banish pain.   

Of Pain and Bras

August evening

August Sky 

“I’m alone. I’m alone,” I cried out the moment after I fell. The apparentness of that statement made my helplessness even starker. That’s also when I realized that I’ll live and that I peed on myself. Which makes sense, since I had been walking to the bathroom in the 10 o’clock hallway darkness when the very open washing machine door (instead of the slightly open door) tripped me, causing me to lose my balance (which the two beers I drank didn’t help), sending me smashing onto the hardwood floor—left shoulder first.

It is two days later and I am still in pain and with very limited left arm movement. I didn’t go to the emergency room because when I went two months ago after having been prodded by concerned friends that my double vision could be a brain tumor and must be looked at immediately, I realized that there isn’t much to be done there unless it’s a dramatic emergency with blood and gore and excruciating pain, and the tiny leakage surely didn’t count. So I’m doing the weekend dance of waiting out pain and worry. (The double vision turned out to be a muscle in my right eye which, surprise, is generally an age thing. It has gotten back to normal with no intervention.)

My key concern at this point is putting on a bra. School starts in two weeks and I cannot be the dangly, droopy teacher. I need some improvement so that I can put a bra on. Luckily, I bought two button-up shirts the other day, but that’s only part of the battle. I’m thinking that I could hook the bra and then try to get into it, but I’m really hoping for vast improvement. A sports bra could do the trick, but they’re so hard to get into and out of that I’m not sure they’re the answer.

For the first time since younger daughter decided to stay near college for most of this summer and summers into the future, and after she told me that during winter break she would come for a week (I screeched and she added a week), I thought about renting out her room, which is the master suite with a walk-in closet and large bathroom. It makes sense monetarily, but it could offer up someone who could help hook a bra in time of need.

Now in a very fast review of relationships, checking if I made a mistake somewhere and I could have a wonderful in-crisis-time man by my side right now who would be only too happy to hook, and unhook, my bra, leaves me solidly in my aloneness. The man whose insults still visit me when I look in the mirror? The man who tried to strangle his wife in front of his kids? The man who tried to make me think that he’s a better deal than my daughters?

I used to joke about a Golden Girls scenario when I retire, but I see that it could be worthwhile to try it sooner.

A friend who knows about my injury, is hurting too, but her injury is far more “worthwhile” than mine since the source of her pain can be traced to a hot Bikram yoga class, and not having to go to the bathroom to pee and to take off her undies so she could be comfy in just her shorts. Oh, the consequences.

She is also a single woman.

Do they have first aid classes for singles?

She knew to wrap her foot and take an Advil. I used frozen blueberries and then an ice pack only to be told by my younger daughter (older daughter still hasn’t called me after two calls and a text) that the blueberries were better because they fit to the shape of my body.

The bath with the muscle soothing bath salts from the Dead Sea was relaxing in the sense that I no longer smell and my hair doesn’t feel like autumn leaves. I also saw how difficult it is to undress: getting out of my tee shirt felt like a challenge for Mensa candidates. I am now wearing a zip front shirt.

Where do I go from here?

I keep pushing my arm in my clueless array of physical therapy moves and I realize that I seem to have reached a before/after time of life.  

When my mother was here last week she talked about a friend who had always been a fearless women. But now, fear of falling (is this what happens after we conquer our fear of flying?) has confined her to her bed.

My mother is also afraid of falling, but she is more afraid to atrophy so she coddles herself and then pushes herself out.

My sister-in-law says she is always in pain, but she is also always on the move.

A friend twisted her ankle turning around to talk to someone.

A friend broke her neck and has been in pain since, but she works with that moment, she has not let it defeat her.

Coming to terms with the physical dangers of just putting one foot in front of the other is sobering. But so, too, is the realization that I need to take advantage of the glory of (generally) pain-free movement while I can enjoy it. For someone who usually lives in the mind, I see how limited my capabilities are when the body takes a break. It’s hard to concentrate when your mind is focused only on the pain, thus anecdotally proving that there is no such thing as multi-tasking.

So I drove to the store for some Advil of my very own, droopy breasts and all. And I managed to take down the recyclables appreciating the coordination between right and left arms.

I have long thought that our lives are made of moments, but now I realize that they are also made up of what we do with those moments.  


Still Seeking Romance

Field of lotuses

There was a moment earlier in the summer when I thought, Oh, how lovely, romance is here. A kind, interesting, intelligent, stable man who wants to hold my hand—and I want to hold his hand. Time to delete my OK Cupid profile. That was until The Conversation.

No, it wasn’t about guns or abortion (although now I realize that those might also have led to The Conversation). It wasn’t even that I was investigating where he stood on the subject, because it didn’t occur to me that he didn’t think the way I thought on the topic. As a sign to how blindsided I was, I wasn’t aware that it was even an issue. Ah, the illusions we have that other people are as sane as we are.

As we sat on a bench opposite a pond, the sky transitioning from late afternoon’s solemn blue to dusk’s soft gray, and after our meandering walk along a stream, the word “evolution” popped up. Leaning back, he said, “You mean Neanderthal man and Cro-Magnon man”—followed by a laugh—a laugh! “No, I don’t believe in them.”

Without any conscious thought, I leaned to the right, away from him, and forward. “You don’t believe in them?” I asked, looking back at him.

“No. I do believe in micro-evolution.” (Apparently you get to create your own phrases that seemingly make you seem less ignorant if your ideas are preposterous.)

“So what, you believe that we popped up on the sixth day?”

“I have to.”

He then went on to continue digging his very own hole in my mind—and, probably, build a glorious mountain to his scholarship in his mind—by explaining the difference between Judaism and Christianity; this from the man who said he had never dated a Jewish woman before, and, I assume, doesn’t know any other Jews. But hey, he was on a roll.


A few months ago I had another date that ended with a thought bomb. At least with that guy I didn’t build up the illusion that this was going well in five dates before the big reveal. No. Date One needed no follow-up.

This gentleman, in response to my saying something about having lived in Israel, stated that he has no interest in visiting there. Okay. That’s fine, don’t go. But there was no stopping the honesty of his thoughts. He then said, “They need to repent.”

Not thinking that I was hearing him correctly, I asked, “You mean the world?” I’m channeling the Holocaust; he was going further back.

“For killing God.”

Whoa. That was quite the statement. I tried to explain some history to him, but he was having none of it. He doubled down and said, “You believe what you believe and I believe what I believe.”

Shockingly, he was surprised that I didn’t want to go out dancing with him after that.


Both of these men made me realize that I have been living under the illusion that I should have blinders on regarding the type of men I can date: I thought that if I was open and accepting, my great big net would enable me to find the right guy. Now I know that I have left myself open to bigots of assorted backgrounds. I’m still trying to figure out why one South American guy assumed that I had converted to Judaism. Does he assume all people start out Catholic?

So I’ve backed off my “all created equal” policy in connection to dating, which means that I now stereotype (with a bit of shame but no regrets, I think). More accurately, I have narrowed my possibilities down to those men who are the boy version of me.

Can I return the anticipatory red-lace undies to Victoria’s Secret?

Lotus flower

The Thickness of Life

Fuzzy pink plant detail

The thickness of life is overwhelming in how it integrates itself into the thinness of life. As I sit, perpetually vacillating between my sense of purpose that compels me to focus on doing something of worth and my summer vacation slant toward reading for pleasure, I read about the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians, and I read condemnations of Israelis and Palestinians, and I listen to speeches about the destruction of neighborhoods and the destruction of the world, leaving myself little room to escape into any semblance of soothing isolation.

Instead of making a decision, I call my mother to book plane tickets for her visit here next week. During the call she recounts her latest troubles with a friend. I don’t discount her as I generally do, but accept that people, at all phases of organizational structure, don’t always get along: one may try and one may be trying, one may push and one may stop yielding.

A few minutes after we hang up, she emails, telling me that her friend’s daughter (who has been in a hospice for weeks) just passed away. The cycle of violence reverts to the cycle of life. She is the third person I know or know of who has died in the past two months, two from cancer and one by choking. They were in their 40s and 50s. Two daughters and a son. Two mothers and a father.

All deaths are tangible; all life is tangible.

Tears roll down my face as I think of this woman, these acquaintances. Then, in a transition unnecessary of explanation, I think of my daughters.

There is such a sadness that accompanies life that it’s hard to believe there’s a purpose, and it’s hard not to believe there’s a purpose. One foot goes in front of the other whether we are full of pain or joy. One person battles cancer, another battles a spouse. One perches amidst challenges, another retreats from challengers. It’s all the same. There is the forest and there are the trees. There is spring and there is fall. What ties each generation to our floating castle in the sky? What do I fear and what do I cherish—at this moment?

The reality beyond the infinitesimal turning of the wheel makes me realize that so much of life feels that it is lived while held under water. Life as a paddle wheel. Is there ever enough laughter before submersion into pain (of self or empathy)?

But as I live through this cycle time-beyond-counting, I realize that its value is in understanding that we are not alone. At each moment of experience we can psychically wave to someone in the midst of a parallel experience, perhaps endlessly waving. This comfort is not in numbers, but in compassion that goes out and comes in, providing shelter sturdier than walls. Is that the point? To value the connections we cannot see, to live as though each experience is a shared experience, to trust that our hearts beat for each other. To believe that compassion is the true world order and to live as if it was in spite of the push downward. 

Fuzzy pink plant