Initial Hospice Visits

Potomac Vista
Potomac River from Alexandria

 My hospice visits have started, though I’ll refer to them as elderly visits since the people I visit will not necessarily be in hospice. One of the two people I started visiting is, thankfully, healthy enough to no longer be in hospice; he lives in a memory care facility in a senior community. The hospice patient lives in a relative’s home in an in-law suite. Each of them suffers from a form of dementia, amongst other maladies, including cancer.

Before my volunteer training, I had thought that hospice was a physical place where people go to die without being poked and prodded to prolong life just for the sake of prolonging life. But I was wrong. Hospice is a status, whereby a doctor evaluates a patient and estimates that the patient has up to six months to live. Obviously, this is not an exact science, but a general guideline. Hospice care itself is generally covered by Medicare, a person’s insurance, or Veteran’s benefits. Having a volunteer visit is a part of the umbrella of services offered.

My seemingly unending search for a volunteer program to which I could be dedicated has brought me here, to the end of the road, so to speak. After realizing that I need ongoing one-on-one interactions with the same people rather than the occasional help-us-out activity, as well as remembering how important hospice was to my father (he died in a hospice in a hospital), and after seeing a flyer about a volunteer opportunity at another volunteer event, I decided to sign up and see how it goes. Two days of training and a binder full of information to read, as well as suggested books about dying and hospice and dementia, which were not as depressing as I had feared, I was ready. You know, it’s not bad to understand where life may lead us, especially with a mother in her 80s and increasing discomfort trying to hoist myself up from the ground, as well as hints of a droopy jowl.

After my initial trepidatious visits because I didn’t know quite what to expect (even though the training was excellent) or how I would react, at four weeks in I am much more comfortable. It is shocking—in a positive way—how a little bit of experience can dispel a lot of angst. Now when I head out for my weekly visit, I’m not concerned about how I feel or how I’ll do, rather I focus on getting out of the Me Zone. It’s like when I started teaching: initially I was consumed with my stress and what I needed, but after a few years, by gaining confidence in my abilities, I have been able to bring the focus on my students and what they need from me.

The woman I visit, my first patient, exudes both a gentle kindness and a stoic frustration. She seems aware of some of her memory issues since she will try to say something, but the wrong word will come out. When that happens she’ll pause, shake her head, and say, “No, that’s not it.” Then she’ll stop trying to talk and retreat from my attempts at conversation and interaction to just sit quietly. Still needing to engage her, I find myself commenting on the clouds outside the windows. One day she tried to tell me about something she saw, but she could only say, “Black thing,” and then she laughed uneasily. I think she was referring to a bird.  

Watching someone else deal with a loss of words—and not recovering those lost words—is scary in an ominous what-will-be-with-me way. At the supermarket the other day, I was in the self-check-out aisle holding this nubby thing that I got for my stir-fry, but I couldn’t remember what it was. Faced with the alphabetical listing on the screen, I blanched at the idea of going through the entire alphabet of fruits and vegetables. The letters b and g came to me, so I started at the beginning of the alphabet. When the image of and word “ginger” appeared, relief rushed through me. It wasn’t the joy of winning something, rather of being released from dread. But that night, when I was telling older daughter this story (maybe I shouldn’t tell my daughters these stories, but I feel that I must), I momentarily blanked on the word “ginger” again.

Who amongst us has not momentarily forgotten the name of something or someone? When a teenage student tells me that she forgot what she was going to say, I gladly tell her that it will come back to her, making me feel a little less anxious about my own lapses. Other than no longer needing to remember phone numbers, there’s so much to know and keep track of as we get older. But still, these temporarily blanked out words are troubling, and being exposed to someone who has Alzheimer’s is both less and more anxiety-inducing than not. Less because I realize that this is still a person beside me. It could be that since she is not too far along in her disease I am able to experience her humanity, even with few words. And more because she seems so much like a lost child, not able to express herself, not remembering that her parents are dead, that her husband is dead, where she used to live, where she lives now, or even that I previously visited her. So much is lost when we can’t access our words and memory.

She seems to like holding a book, looking at it. But after the first time when I read to her for a few minutes, she doesn’t want me to read. Perhaps she no longer understands many of the words or she cannot create a picture in her mind. This is surprising to me. I had envisioned myself quietly reading to the people I visit. It is such an elementary way that we have devised to experience being together. Now I must think of other ways to do that. The key, I am realizing, is to shed my need to impose upon our time—to fill our time—and to let an hour of being together be the accomplishment itself.


All the Middle-Aged Single Ladies

 

Flat tire
Flat tire on the Meadowbrook Parkway; I managed to call for a tow truck.

 

Just about every conversation I have with my middle-aged single lady friends will, at some point, touch on the subject of dating. That part of the conversation generally comes after the updates on children (even if only applicable to me) and work (always applicable and often accompanied by sarcastic comments); angry, frustrated, bleak statements about the latest outrage by the little men and women (ugh—Yeah Feminism!) in charge; then, in a little white flag of hope will be vague thoughts about retirement; and, finally, updates on whether or not we are on the manhunt or not, and how it’s going or why we’re not participating.

We do not bemoan the lack of good men (we’re still hopeful that they exist out there behind a swipe in an as yet undiscovered app or even in line for coffee). It’s more that we wonder if we want to be in a relationship. What’s in it for us? A male friend wondered how I and another friend could still be single since we are both great cooks and have nice homes. If this is the stereotype that we’re fighting against then hope is lost since I have no intention of offering a tasty sanctuary to anyone (except my daughters).

We wonder about the value of a relationship not just because of past agonies, but because of current comfort. None of us wants to lose all that we have gained since the defining breakup. We don’t want to lose the lifestyles we created to conform to someone else’s desires. It took so long to stop doing things for someone else that any compromise could feel like a defeat. And since it took even longer to figure out what we need to make us happy, the thought of losing any progress for a few man-woman interactions is shrug-worthy. Why bother still needs to be adequately answered.

It’s not just that we are post-divorce, it’s also that we’re post-children-at-home. Once you’ve stopped supplying services to your loved ones, it’s hard to go back. Sometimes it feels to me as if the years when I was a full-time mother never happened. It’s a black hole that absorbed my time and memory. Surely no man will need that involvement (and if he does, he should stay away from me and my friends), but once you only need to worry about yourself, it’s hard to go back, even to a part-time position.

Also, once you have dealt with the breakup of a marriage, you lose the illusion that satisfaction can be found in having someone to lean on. It’s not bitterness that speaks, but the reality that dependence, or the expectations that dependence breeds, simply cannot be trusted. Even if you were to be in a relationship now, it would never be as two into one, but always as two individuals, side-by-side. And if that’s the case, why do I need to be with the same person all the time as opposed to doing different things with different people? And why, dear God, do I need to have breakfast with anyone? Can’t a woman enjoy her first cup of coffee in peace without having to worry about looks, conversation, or how someone else wants his eggs?

It seems, doesn’t it, that what we single middle-aged women have attained is wisdom. Or learning how to live as realistic cynics, which, honestly, is probably the safest way to live. Could it be that since we no longer look for someone else to make decisions for us we have shed useless softness, and since we are flexible in the moment neither are we too tough to deal with. No consultations are required before making decisions since we are not hedged in by someone else’s desires or moods or schedules. I would say that we are ideal companions.

The problem, I guess, is that we don’t want to change this lovely status quo for someone who can’t make up his mind without consulting us first.


Families Belong Together Day

Marching to DOJ and Capital 30 June 2018

I went to the Families Belong Together Rally and March in DC with my march friend. At first we couldn't understand how people were grouped. Then we realized that they were gathered around trees: everyone seeking the "cool" shade. You see, no differentiation between peoples, just seeking comfort from the elements. Can diversity show unity any better than that?

Marching to DOJ and Capital 30 June 2018

I finally got my chance to hear Lin Manuel Miranda sing live from Hamilton--free. Of course, I couldn't see him since we were behind the stage, but all of a sudden I heard a single voice sing and all the phones around me starting popping up in the air to record the moment. Sharing hearts and beauty shouldn't be a hard thing to do or a difficult concept to grasp.

Marching to DOJ and Capital 30 June 2018

Marching from the White House down to the Department of Justice to walk around it and then to the Capitol. I didn't plan it, but I love how the Statue of Liberty's beacon in the poster is right next to the Capitol in the distance. They really do go together and there were tens of thousands of people marching all over the country to proclaim that.

Marching to DOJ and Capital 30 June 2018

Vigil at dusk. Representatives from different faiths spoke; very powerful expressions from faith-based perspectives which basically boil down to treating each other with respect and dignity. This is Mark Levine (Democratic Delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia's 45th District) speaking  from the Jewish perspective against family separation. Except for the Christ candles, which I didn't hold, it was a lovely gathering and affirmation that We're Not Backing Down. 

 


Hostility and Humility

Butterfly on goose poop

 

Two horribly contrasting images of people have lodged in my mind. There is the vile image and the poignant image.

There are the people who are okay (pleased, I dare say) with ripping children away from their parents, with taking healthcare away from children, with manifesting that vile thing that lives in them on the rest of us. These people can explain why they do these things, logically and with big words, and they can even expound on the purpose of boundless pain.

Unfortunately, this ease with evil is not new to our world.

There seem to be stories from every generation that reveal curdled hearts. These people, whose minds and souls are sealed within vast vats of self-serving rhetoric, cannot be fathomed. These are the people who, generation after generation, have enslaved, branded, burned, lynched, pierced, shot, macheted—and still they have the audacity to think that their actions are valid, have a purpose that is more than to manifest evil.

How does a person skip compassion? I understand the meaning of the term “dehumanization,” but its very inhumanity still boggles the soul.

I hate to say “these people,” but sometimes blanket statements feel necessary. And one more: These are the people who never find blame in themselves because these vile acts are what brings about the world they want.

Then there the people who touch you because there is no artifice to them. Their presence shakes you to contemplate that which makes a person good. The connectivity does not degrade or propel, rather it is the gentlest nod of inspiration to simply be in the moment, of the moment, expecting nothing gained, except the internal breeze of positive soul meeting positive soul.

Such interactions remind us that all is not bile and bluster. They remind us, don’t they, that generally it is children and the elderly, with no axes to grind or ladders to climb or ideas to prove, who let us settle into a shape that does not shift—a self we can find comfort within. They remind us, too, how important it is to have shelter for the soul—that there is within a place that cannot be invaded. To know that our core (and the core of so many) has not been corrupted. To know with solidity that a mind can mesh with another mind in respect that can be akin to love.

There are tears of sadness, and tears of joy.

There are pangs of pain, and palpitations of hope.

There is suppression that cannot smother.

There is the will to never succumb to the sordid nature of evil and hate.

There is hope to propel and prevail, for never is it all lost.

We must find, create, inspire all that may be a bulwark against all that tries to debase.

We are each other’s soul supports, especially now.


Easing into Purpose, My Own

Palm Beach April 2018

Too many epiphany moments may be unbelievable, but not enough can make you slide into a complacency that starts to feel like boredom. It’s not helpful for all insights to be incremental. In that case, are they insights or merely a growing awareness? I need the occasional ah-ha moment to jolt myself back from the inertia of comfort into self-assessment.

A few weeks ago, as I read about another non-profit created by a driven woman out to save the world, I could feel myself about to dive into the usual lamentation that I have done nothing, that I have not pushed myself to achieve what should be achievable—look, she did it—when the ding ding ding of realization descended: if that had suited my personality, I would have done it already. I’ve tried to save myself the angst of this cycle of recrimination before, but this time my mind went beyond accusation to insight: I’m a one-on-one person. Strength for me is not in numbers: of people, of actions, of activities. There have been opportunities to move mountains, but I have always shirked from them to come back to my quiet activities. The “rally the troops” attitude just doesn’t work if you’re the only troop and you’d prefer to read a book, take a walk, bake a cake, go to bed. And that doesn’t make me a bad feminist or bad person. It makes me who I am.

It was at this moment verging on tense disappointment that the ding ding ding occurred, but only because, perhaps, I am finally letting myself acknowledge—and respect—who I am. I talk. I listen. I joke. I interrupt. I probe. I want to hear people tell the big and small stories of their lives. What could be better than looking into a person’s eyes as she tells you an anecdote that defines her? What could be better than telling a tale that surprises yet doesn’t. Those are the moments that I thrive in, that bring me joy. One-on-one. The intimacy of relationships and small groups is where I live.

This realization brought me back to thinking about how to spend my un-designated time. As much as I need to be alone to think and gather my energies, I need, too, to connect. Over the years I’ve done a variety of volunteer activities, but nothing more than a couple of times. Nothing seemed right or had enough direct interaction. I don’t want to help someone who will help someone. I don’t want to live in the abstract. After editing a book for an organization that never got back to me, I decided that I don’t want to use my skills, but myself. I don’t want to keep defining myself by my roles and abilities; it’s time to go forward robed just in personality.

As these things happen, shortly after that realization I learned about an opportunity to be a hospice volunteer. I signed up for the training, did the pre-training reading and viewing, read a couple of books that I thought would help me understand what I was headed for (Caring for the Dying: The Doula Approach to a Meaningful Death, Henry Fersko-Weiss; Being Mortal, Atul Gawande) all of which helped me to see that the topic didn’t get me down, rather it made me thoughtful and inspired to engage. Then I participated in the two-day training program itself.

Would it be surprising to say that everyone in the training, both the trainers and the soon-to-be-volunteers, was a lovely person? I don’t think so. What joy it was to spend two days with people whose hearts aren’t hidden far up their sleeves.

In this hospice program, many of the clients have memory issues, rather than having reached the end of suffering from cancer, which is what I had expected. The apprehension I felt about engaging with people whose memory was a victim of their disease was somewhat alleviated when we toured a memory care facility. A few residents joined us for the tour and sat with us as we learned about the activities and services the residents receive. Their joining us wasn't to explain anything, other than their presence made it clear that they didn't quite know what was going on and this looked like something fun to join. The distance between perception and reality was breached in seeing that age and significant loss did not diminish humanity.

My hope for myself is that I don’t come up with excuses to stay home, but that I find fulfillment in the mutual reciprocity of giving of self. And that I ease into the quiet meaning that is created by two people being side-by-side, together. 

Palm Beach Sculpture Garden


An April Sunday

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Cleaning up in Lake Accotink Park

Has the world changed?

It still revolves around the sun.

Daylight comes in the morning and

Dusk darkens into evening.

People kill.

People mourn.

Some shout yes, others shout no.

There are those who no longer love,

And those who want to love.

I’m just checking because there must be differences

Since hate and negativity are in ascendance everywhere

I read and hear.

But if I look

I see the unfurling seeds and

Petals floating in the warming air.

It is then that it comes to me that politics is not life,

And we, the you and me who breathe breath into the world,

Will overwhelm, always, eventually, that which tries to break and impede.

Our stance, our backs, our commitment

To optimism, to believing in the eternal

Triumph of good over evil.

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Spring

 

Gray clouds hover over the dimming day,

I turn to an empty room and into that which hovers

I sigh a prayer of and for compassion,

For seeing that your toes and mine need to tread lightly,

Honoring that which exists without us, beyond us;

That differences that define should not negate.

But I worry that they cannot perceive  

My humanity because of

Labels

That state but do not

Respect.

Look into my eyes,

Be close enough to have no fear:

Why do you want me not to live freely?

Why do you want to shout over my voice?

Why do you not recognize my needs—my humanity?

We each have a life to live,

One life!

Overcome the call to smother, instead

Remember that no one is always right.

Trust me—

I will not cause the earth to tremble or the

Heavens to fall.

It is merely my voice and my heart—

Beating against yours

For acknowledgement that I have

A right to my opinions, my presence,

My equality—

Our equality.

Holocaust Memorial Service JCC NOVA 2018
Holocaust Memorial Service, JCC NOVA

Realizations about Religion

 

Foggy Day

No glass of wine, bottle of beer, or Colorado gummy bear can make my mind fuzzy enough for long enough to stop the realization that is finally solidifying.

I have wished that I was a religious person for much of my adult life. Hence moving to Israel at 22 and wondering about becoming a rabbi last year. I have wished that prayer could reach into my depths, and for religious rites and observances to motivate me, give me meaning beyond rote repetition. I have longed for inspiration from a fast or adherence to a food restriction that would propel me to deepen my commitment. Throughout, I have wondered what I lack since I have remained steadily unmoved.

Yet, my perceptions and groundedness, I realize, have remained steadfast in being connected through time and space with Judaism, with being a Jew. I have finally realized that the basis of my morality, my concerns, my commitments, my perception of what is a good life and a good person, are based there, and in the unending stream of generations that has continued to hone and embody that way of being—a belief that embodies one’s entirety. The consistency of the believers has enabled the wonderers, like myself, to be grounded in a truth that for us is human-inspired rather than divinely inspired. Perhaps we each are meant to have our role to make the whole.

I have always wondered and longed for meaning that I thought religion could foster. Alas, I am not an acute observer of rules, regulations, or restrictions as set down centuries ago by or for this God. But while I thought this created a hollow space within, I am realizing that all this time my internal space has been filling up with a connectedness that reaches as deep as any sacred prayer or act could.

Finally, I have ceased to ache for what I lack; instead, I perceive that inspiration—meaning, purpose—comes from an interconnectedness that transcends direct guidance, propelling the self without command, rooting purpose within that expanse. An expanse which is the underlying beat of compassion that connects us all, the breath of the earth and its manifestation in all that is, here, within each of us.

Compassionate congregating occurring each moment we interact, engage, think about another, the other, the not me, which, within this connective thread, is somehow me.

Crying when hearing other people’s stories.

Smiling when watching other people’s joys.

Carrying concern.

Perhaps I lost a reality that I thought I wanted, but perhaps, too, that desire helped form who I need to be.

 


Of Envelopes and Mirrors

Horizontal tree

Listen

To the women in your life.

Our voices are not sealed in a safe,

Or buried under a tree,

We are the envelope

Unsealed by the steam of empathy.

 

Once open, listen.

How does a child imagine evil

If it has not happened to her?

Creativity is, sadly/happily,

Oft based on reality.

 

Do not placate us,

For that suffocates.

Do not put us on a pedestal,

For that petrifies.

 

Why are there still millennia of assumptions to strike?

Why do men continue to hold and control

When women have been the

Foundation upon which their façade stands.

 

Our selves

Our clothing

Our sexuality

Our careers

Our wages

Our visions

Tired of fighting merely

To be seen, heard, heeded.

 

Why do they insist on an unrelenting superiority?

Equality, I assume (who knows), cannot hurt.

Why weigh threats against tears,

Arrogance against heartache?

 

We are not the unknown,

We are their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, daughters, cousins, nieces.

Why do they feign confusion that we deserve/demand

R E S P E C T.

Haven’t we been singing about it for a while.Hello, hello can you hear me?

 

Have we coddled and comforted too much:

Transferring her ego to support his.

Destruction by love.

 

Surely it is easier to climb by helping

Not shoving,

Easier to thrive by sharing

Not taking,

Wiser together

Not crushing.

 

Do not kiss my forehead,

Sidestepping my content for

Faux comfort.

Embrace

The fullness of my body.

 

Stand before a woman,

Imagine you are her mirror image,

What do you reflect back, what do you ignore?

Is it a suggestion or the details of a person. 

 


On Rain, Pebbles, and Sighs

 

IMG_20171112_110112985_HDR (1)

I am a basket filled with severed headlines whose savage stories seep into the sweet staleness of daily life with visions of the horrors of hate.

What is there to hate in a world of autumn golds, a glowing moon, the shy happiness of a child growing into confidence, the anticipated joys of future gatherings, connections, friendships?

Why must the haters project their shriveled sense of self onto us, we who don’t demand the scepter, but simply want to share?

Perhaps I am wrong and it is not heated hate that drives them, but simply the dust of disregard. The burden of being unable to care about anyone but those within the first degree of separation.

Surely it is time for interconnectedness to battle those who thrive on division, those who stand on their own paltry hills versus those of us who have a conscience, a purpose, a path that is not single-file even when alone.

It is true, isn’t it, that nothing can be personal when there is so much sanctioned pain, when the evil of egos controls.

Emotions that raise the bile within my throat form, but I don’t want to share that emotion; thrust from me the fire pit that burns with my own form of hatred and amplify instead the voice that cries with the urgency of the invisible turned visible.

No longer will we be the onion of the metaphor, needing to be peeled to be revealed, so hidden were our voices our pains our perceptions. No longer. No.  

We stand howling the rawness of truth—of so much pain handled on our own, in our minds and bedrooms; of dealing with the drip and deluge of indignities individually; of trying for strength amidst the crushing insinuation of smiles;

We must acknowledge that my interior, is yours ours, and now we must reach out alone together, a chorus to hear heed.

We will not be shunted stifled.

It has become too much, too blunt, too vast, this desire of the traitorous rulers to encage our minds our souls our selves, we will not retreat succumb enable.

Enough.

Look at me and see me. I am not a reflection of your world and your desires.

Somehow (unimaginable inner strength / the basic drive to live free) we—women and men too—have survived and our rise will not be thwarted by their animosity.

During my divorce I discovered that as my mind stopped being a dungeon full of his words and images of me, I lightened and lifted into a self that is proud of being, dreaming, sharing. Once shed of his demands for who and what I should be, I was able to be—and to know that being is admirable.

No longer controlled by a man—or fighting his attempt at control, I learned that this life is not a game to be won, of winners and losers, rather it is

A cohort creating, expressing, nurturing, with the intellect to speak down the generations so that the vilenesses will always be seen for what they are. We have raised our young to recognize that we will always fight. We have always stood against the waves of tyrants; it is here, in the steel within.

Now we are a herd, women demanding to be heard beyond the tables around which we intrinsically congregate.

Succor, it is not a bad word. It contrasts with the pain too many men drag down to us.

They have called us strident, nasty bitches to demean us, but I see it as a badge of honor.

Perhaps there won’t be a reckoning and karma won’t play havoc upon their minds and lives, nevertheless we drive on, urged by millennia of women and men ravaged because they held no earthly riches. There may be religions about honoring the least of us, but that doesn’t mean actions speak louder than words.

It is on me to know that my core—both inside and out, for that is how we must be—will not be debased by the criminals who conquer even after being vanquished, generation after generation. What has changed is not the cycle of good and evil, but our recognition that rain wears away, pebbles divert, sighs howl—and that each of us is part of that process.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? 

If I am not for others, what am I? 

And if not now, when?” 

-- Rabbi Hillel


A November Eve

IMG_20171030_175933782_HDR

Plunging people past optimism

Into chasms of chaos

Where deep inside all we can spot is the light

From others, who, like us

Refuse to succumb to the lure

Of me me me me me…

Or maybe, our me is different.

 

It is a grand

Us

That grants, bestows, recognizes

The beauty within each shade,

Each manner of bending,

Each.

 

It is not nice to merely pretend you care

About something that is other than

Mine and money

Because if all you care about is mine and money,

Then the rest of us,

Have so much to do.

To breathe

To protect

To support

To push back

Continually.

 

We had hoped, hadn’t we,

That the world that has always been at war,

Had finally surpassed that expression of self.

But since it is still our sad reality,

We cannot shelter in place—

When wails reach us through walls and 

Hearts.

 

Battles between continue to rage,

But, there, beyond the horizon,

Some of us still perceive what is not, yet,

Except in the hearts of those who beat

From the root to the crown

With tendrils interwoven, strengthened,

Supported by conjecture

That there will be a time

When those joined in solidarity

Can cause to cease arrogance and tyranny

To foster a Resistance

That will become the Expression of

What it means to be a person.

We/Us not supine

Because ‘tis better to Persist

Resist

Than

Not be.

 

This is the time, too,

To support those of us

For whom life is not a grand plan

But moments of together.

Their burden is not to change the trajectory,

But engage in the simplest acts

Of love of compassion of union.

 

For isn’t that the point?

To create the space for each of

Us

To love and be loved

Until our final breath.


My Eclipse Experience

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Totality: the sun is hiding behind the moon and clouds.

 

20170821_143838 (1)
Totality: I think the white dot is Jupiter.

 

My eclipse trip to South Carolina with a good friend turned out to be what we had hoped for (except for the cloud cover at totality): an adventure. The adventure ended up spending the day at Green Pond Landing staring at the sky with a charming English gentleman we met at a coffee shop in nearby Anderson, SC.

Both of us are single women who don’t spend much time trying to change our social status, since we’re both living the lives we have and with enough experience with disappointing dates to know not to have realistic expectations for change. Nonetheless, having the attention of a handsome, thoughtful gentleman with an accent for the day made a small opening into my comfy closed mindset.

First off, let me state that there was no flirting. We were three people who flowed with the day: each adding to the collective experience. A platonic threesome. Neither my friend nor I subverted our intention of having a lovely eclipse experience together in order to gain the attentions of a man. No one was elbowed to the side, the conversation was not hogged, and there were no coy hair tossings and eyelash batting. We are mature women who value our friendship over any dalliance.

But we were attended to, and it was refreshing. Yes, of course we could carry the blankets and the cooler (how else did they get into the car), but wasn’t it nice that he offered to take them from the car to where we decided would be the ideal spot to experience the eclipse. We shared our sandwiches and snacks with him (he was completely unprepared—he didn’t even have eclipse glasses until we gave him our spare pair), and he took us out to dinner. The day-long conversation was a hopscotch game between bits of personal history, the eclipse experience itself (yes, you can have a somewhat thoughtful conversation wearing eclipse glasses), and, of course, the fall of the American Empire with t- at the helm.

The details of the day, though perfect for conjuring in my mind’s eye when lying in bed before sleep, have more heft when I think about how the experience made me feel as a woman. There was the smooth, relaxed interaction of a confident woman who did not undermine her personality in the presence of an unattached man in an attempt to attract said man. I was not running down Possibility Lane, and still, yes, he seemed to be attracted to me. (We did exchange numbers at the end of the day; alas, he never contacted me even after I contacted him after a couple of days—but still, the exchange at his request.) Nor was I waylaid by my shadow self who always comes to life in a date situation, wondering if I would want to touch this man, if I would want to spend any more time talking to him, and even (in the best of times) if I could imagine being naked with him. Nope. I was focused on the moment. And him, he did what many men I meet seem incapable of doing: he listened, he asked questions, he seemed to care about my comfort, and he did not mansplain. None of us were eclipse experts—and he did not take it upon himself to pretend that he was one just because he’s a man. We Googled any eclipse questions we had. We three lived the day thriving on the exchange of tidbit stories, and the casual and open way that one story leads to another when you’re not censoring your every comment.

While younger daughter joked knowingly that he wasn’t found on OKCupid, and even I joked about how it just might be true about meeting someone when you’re not trying or expecting to, there was more to the day than this specific interaction. It offered a hint at what might be possible: that my future might not only hold re-creations of past relationships in which I was Hercules to their Princesses. I had decided that a balanced and supportive relationship was an impossible achievement, so why even bother attempting to meet anyone. But now, I see that I was wrong. Yup, Eclipse Man made his appearance to illuminate the point that I need not always assume the worse. It also made me realize that, while not courting courting, you never know what can happen.

But, simply, this experience reinforced my understanding that friendships are the core relationships in my life (after my daughters and my mother, of course). Not only would I not have traveled to see the eclipse, but I would not have been in the upbeat “let’s see what happens” frame of mind if I were not with my friend. I also might not have let down my guard, at least not enough to have had a daylong conversation that gives me hope that I will meet my match.

All in all, an excellent trip. (Of course, I didn’t do the driving; the traffic was horrible in both directions.)

I’m definitely planning on a 2024 eclipse adventure!

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Green Pond Landing, SC: A little while before the eclipse

Not Married 32 Years

Guard Dog in Old Town Alexandria

 

August 1985. Married.

August 2007. Divorced.

August 2017—

Still using checks with married name and

PO Box (that hid my intentions).

 

A reminder each time I use one

(crossing out last name, PO Box,

writing in maiden name, my home address),

To note the difference that time makes.

 

Ten years since the decoupling

Has dulled wrenching tears into

Unwelcome, unfocused remembrances.

 

I am past dwelling

(is that a reason I shy away from men—

no desire to re-live

when exchanging histories?)

Though cynicism lingers.

 

Twenty years of marriage:

They can be perplexing to recall—

What tone do I take that

Hurts the least, yet respects

The years together?

 

Ten years of divorce:

A bridge between then and now—

Always shifting.

 

The pain of living with wanting to forget,

But not wanting.

Disappointment in a cancelled paired-vision.

Regret in decisions and directions taken—or not.

 

Failure removes the sheen of romance

That had been vibrant.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to see the pairs, always pairs.

Even if their grass is not green, there is still

Something about those ten twenty thirty years together

That I have lost.

 


A Week of Not Thinking

Night on the Potomac

I took off a week from my working mind. No classes to teach. No writing to mull over as the background music of my days. I became a version of myself who filled her hours with chores and errands, volunteering and chatting, reading and watching. It went well. Very well. I finally did my will. I bought a rose bush and some other flowering plants for my balcony. I rearranged furniture and organized my space. I finally decided on a paint color for my bedroom (painting to be done with younger daughter next week). I ate healthy. I swam and walked.

Yes, it went well.

It wasn’t that I was bored, because I wasn’t. I had things to do and I did them. There was a stillness to my mind which I could probably get used to it, but I don’t want to. It was strange to be me on the outside, but not on the inside. I was only concerned with what I was doing or going to do; there were no threads of thoughts to follow beyond the moment. It was as if I was living at noon with no shadow to follow me around.

Who am I without that shadow self? How can I simply be the woman who buys a shower mat, and not the woman who absorbs observations and readings, thinking about how to convey and develop her thoughts in writing.

It was an experiment. And it succeeded. It made me realize that to be mentally absorbed with my writing is essential for me to be fully myself. That immersion is my identification. A final piece of writing is not so much what defines me as does the ongoing internal discussion that culminates in that writing. It is, I assume, the same for someone who is absorbed in any activity or topic of study: that process of focused thinking is necessary to feel whole, capable, hopeful. Inspired and inspiring. 


Sleepless with My Cellphone

 

Trees outside my window
Trees outside my window

I might not have a man in bed with me, but, boy, is my bed ever crowded. Nightly, I get into bed, ready to read literature—right after I catch-up on my phone-reading of the newest sputtering from / or mockery of t- and his horrific administration, and the r’s and their persistent betrayal of the basic norms of decency that I might have missed in the previous update, an hour ago. I exhaust myself with 30 minutes, okay, an hour, of being a witness to the unrelenting ignominies. Then, determined to maintain my commitment to reading about something other than the destruction of American Democracy and people’s persistence to not be thwarted by their elected officials, I charge my phone and finally open my book. But within minutes I start nodding off.

Why is outrage “easier” to read than a novel?

Perhaps it’s the immediacy: the shock that dystopian fiction is coming to life, the fear of where it will lead, and the need to be alert to the latest treachery and its real-life implications. To be a witness. To be prepared to resist.

A few hours after I fall asleep, I wake. The requisite trip to the bathroom is not enough to ease me back to sleep. I try looking at the trees outside my window. I try emptying my mind. I try closing my eyes and unclenching my jaw. But thoughts settle in for the night unbidden. I don’t want to relive my day or the outrages that seep in. I want to go back to the oblivion of sleep. Once up, though, it won’t happen. Surely, I am a lousy meditator since I barely give myself five minutes to attempt to ease into my breath and the now. I have hours to go before I re-sleep.

Staying like that, thinking about the thoughts and conversations of my day, inevitably leads to some level of disappointment. It’s like watching repeats of programs that weren’t very interesting the first time around. And if I add to that thinking about our reality, my jaw re-fuses.

Stupidly, I take to my phone. A form of self-flagellation. There’s nothing new, for the writers and analysts are asleep, attempting their severance before starting all over again in the morning. Still, I seek out commentary I may have missed. By now, my mind is both numb and abuzz, and my frustration with myself and the world cannot be soothed simply by putting the phone down. So I turn on the radio which plays BBC after midnight. I go in and out of sleep for hours, getting updated on what’s happening around the world, hearing in-depth analyses of all sorts of problems I didn’t know existed. There is pain all around. Hearing artists and writers speak for a few moments of calm. Finally shutting it off when soccer scores come on. Will a new pillow help?

I wake when the grey sky outside my west facing window signals that morning has finally come. I take a few minutes to be in the moment, often succeeding in resisting the phone. Daybreak, savoring the moment: the calls of the birds, the sky in its grayish blue hue, the brightening leaves on the trees, the sensation of air on my body.

And then it is time to get up and face what I may have missed in the past hour or so.

 


Broth and Bouillon

Huntley Meadows Blooming

 

A friend called me last Friday night to go out dancing with her and a group of people from a Meet-Up. With no time to think about why I shouldn’t go, feeling weighted down by a long day of unenthusiastic summer teaching, a too long conference call, and a look at my low-count Fitbit, I decided to go. It helped that the restaurant was four minutes from my house and there wasn’t enough time to stress about what to wear.

As soon as I arrived, I started dancing. When the band took a break between sets, my friend asked me what plans I had for the weekend. I said that my one plan for a walk and lunch on Saturday had been cancelled, and that I was plan-free to be home writing and reading. “You like that,” she commented. Yes, I do!

I enjoy these free weekends more now that there are weekends when I do get together with friends. When it was an unending stream of plan-less Saturdays and Sundays (even if I stayed home to grade papers), the perils of solitary boredom would bear down on me. It’s hard to have confidence in your ability to think and write when you can barely stand to hear your thoughts another moment.

Is this a good idea for an essay? Does anyone care what I have to say? Should I take a break now or should I continue to stare at the computer screen? Should I read a book to learn something or read one to relax? Should I eat now or wait until later? Should I eat a salad or just say the heck with it and have ice cream? Should I watch another episode of this show or finally open the mail? Should I go for a walk someplace close by or waste time and drive somewhere that has a view? Should I sit in a coffee shop tomorrow morning or stay home so I won’t feel bad that I’m alone? -- You know, the pervasive thoughts that eddy around endlessly.

Too much of a good thing (the very empty nest) has made me value these breaks from myself to be a part of other people’s lives in the day-to-day interweaving of our stories. Through my friends I participate and release the control stick. They provide an out from constantly judging and assessing myself and others (a big drawback to being a teacher). Life not in the abstract. As a bee, needing both the hive and the individual buds.

I can finally relate to extroverts who thrive on interactions, and not just the introvert’s need for solitude. I must have intrinsically perceived this dichotomy for how else could I have taught, and enjoy teaching, for so many years?

But this movement out is not just about understanding different aspects of myself, it’s also about having enough of the right people in my life to enable me to come to this revised reality. Both the friend with whom I went dancing and the friend who cancelled our plans are self-proclaimed introverts. Although they, too, have come to straddle the social and the solitary, pushing out so as not to feel confined. Perhaps this is a stage that (single) (middle-aged) women inevitably reach so that our lives will expand, rather than condense and contract. Broth and bouillon.

I wonder, though, if I have been mistakenly looking at myself through the irrelevant lens of personality label. As we get older, we come to realize, don’t we, that we are shaped more by our experiences than our character traits. (And often those experiences occur in spite of our self-defined traits.) While they surely feed into each other, it begins to feel that those labels need to be dropped. They no longer explain or excuse who we have become; moreover, they limit our ability to fully thrive in the present. I must be open to who I am in a way that is undefined, unconfined, in flux.

Maybe I'll go dancing tonight.


On Taking Solo Walks

Bay and bridge view

 

Sometimes when I’m walking I feel as though I’m standing in place. The joggers whiz by at their pounding pace; cyclists careen past, occasionally with an “On your left,” but generally just the sudden sight of the cyclist in front of me, already receding into the distance. Then there are the people coming toward me, once I notice them, it is as if we switch into slow motion, the distance between us closing like molasses, slowing down until, somehow, there is the nod and pass. Looking down at my feet and the path beneath me (which I do when engrossed in my thoughts or a podcast since Poops passed away in December, so that now I am no longer a part of his sniff-and-pee style of walking), I miss much of the scene around me.

Is there always a trade-off: being introspective or being observant? Do I need both close-to-home and look-at-that! solo walks to maintain my equilibrium? Probably, since we learn over time, don’t we, how to regulate our lives so we can be comfortable in ourselves.

-----------

The first walks that I took by myself were, ostensibly, to find a place to read outside, but as I realize now, they were just to get out. An un-understood drive to wander, to be in the fresh air (NYC-fresh that is), to be unconfined, to be alone—unreachable.

While there were plenty of benches and greenery outside of the apartment building I grew up in, there was no privacy. If there’s anything an introverted, self-conscious, bookworm needs, it’s not to be noticed. And sitting outside reading would not be noticed with great admiration from the neighborhood kids, especially the bullies who always seemed to be around. So onward I went.

Perhaps if I had grown up in a house where I had my own corner in the garden I might not have needed those walks; I might have been content to sit on my stump to read and daydream. I don’t think I regret that loss; how much of a homebody would I be if I were content to just sit on my balcony full of potted flowers and herbs overlooking a church and a graveyard?

There was a bay (Little Neck Bay) about a mile from my house. I generally went there on my walks. Having a view without cars and buildings and people is what, I realize now, propelled me there. While there was the Cross Island Parkway on the other side of the path, I could keep my eyes focused on the water and the sky, and I could pretend that the sound of the cars racing by were waves and wind. It was the vista of space that I needed. My destination could have been to wander my neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods, examining homes and gardens with their distinct personalities, but that suggestion of people wasn’t what I needed. It’s fascinating how we uncover what we need—and how, sometimes, that thing stays with us. I needed a water view with its hint of distant worlds. I still need a water view. It is for me a glimpse at whatever is divine in the universe; my visual connection with the immensity of existence.

Once I learned how to drive, I would drive to Jones Beach. Depending on traffic (a phrase anyone from a city uses to preface driving information), it took about 40 minutes to get there. But it was worth the drive. I wouldn’t go in the summer when the traffic was crazy and the beach towel-to-towel, but off-season to walk, to be. The waves broke and the wind blew ceaselessly off the Atlantic Ocean, drawing me both in and out—wondering, and I was at peace. Not an acquiescent peace, rather a peace that inspires a foundational confidence that the future would hold more than the present.

When I lived in Israel I had my walks along the Mediterranean Sea, which often combined with a swim and a drive. They were not solo, they were a part of my relationship with my ex-husband, and they helped to establish our rhythm and belief that we were in sync. Maybe if we had stayed close to those shores things might have unfolded differently?

Now that I live in Northern Virginia I have my walks along the Potomac River. Although they don’t match the drama of walking along a bay, a sea, an ocean, my life, too, is more sedate, like a river. While my occasional Potomac walks settle my need for a water walk, the closeness of the opposite shore, so like where I stroll, hinders me from being inspired. That shore keeps closed something within me.

The nearest ocean walk is three-hours away, and there is always traffic.

Maybe I need the frustration, the thwarting, to stop my settling into a creeping capitulation. Maybe I don’t know what I need anymore, so accepting have I become of what I am. Maybe I reached a high tide, hoarding what I have, flourishing in my waters, expecting low tide, wondering what it will leave and what it will take.

 


Morning Waves of Envy

June 2017 Bronx Botanical Garden
Rose Garden, Bronx Botanical Gardens

 

I’m trying to figure out if I’m envious of my colleagues and friends who have recently entered into serious relationships, or if I’m just a good friend who’s happy for their happiness. The of-the-moment me, before my me-me-me thoughts intrude, jumps up and down for joy, echoing their abandon and confidence. Who could deny the sensuous pull of new love?

The cynical part of me, though, feels as would a woman in a long-term relationship (I had been in one of those; 21-years) who looks on with a haughty, bemused expression, thinking back to her own romantic beginnings and where they had led her. Wondering, as the weight of her accumulated grievances bring her down, how could anyone be so naïve.

But the part of me that’s a tad uneasy about being alone in the somewhat-distant future, when I start to fall apart inside and out, wishes that envy were at my core, driving me to actively seek out someone whom I could love for making me feel protected and adored. A stroke to the ego and a helping hand can’t be the worst things in the world, especially when I can imagine regret tearing at the edges of my days and a wobble as I steady myself for standing.

My bitter divorce (10 years next month!—unbelievable how time zooms), my brief manipulative relationships, and various bland dates should have cleared me from harboring envious thoughts, but, I realize sadly, they have not. I really do wish my thoughts were untainted, but, unfortunately, they aren’t. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to act on them, though, because my envy-penetrating walls still offer more comfort than unease.

As I see picture after picture of couples enjoying summer baseball games at stadiums around the country, I wonder, as I sit at my dining/writing table, about missing the opportunities that paired life seamlessly present. Again, envy prickles, because isn’t that, still, what I’m supposed to want. It’s hard to look past the social norm that summer vacation is to accumulate shared experiences, especially with a partner.

For a while now my purpose has been unmoored from that base, though still tenuously tethered to that ill-fitting norm, hence the creep of envy. But what if my purpose has morphed to ensure that I always have solitary breathing time and space from which the thoughts that nourish me propagate, and not for the activities and chatter. Perhaps the envy surfaces to force me to continually re-assess my stability and happiness. Perhaps it is not to unnerve me and push me toward abandoning my path, but rather to check in, to see if this is still right for me.

Looking at those paired smiles I need to invite the envy, not fear it, for I want my life to remain vibrantly my own. I need to anticipate that my perceptions may change and not shut them out, beyond my walls. For now, envy quickly fades back to sympathy, signaling that, for now, I am right where I need to be.

 


Balancing Act

Morning on Naples Beach  July 2017

 

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and it’s been a longer while since I’ve written anything other than from a solid core of disgust, anger, and disappointment. I’ve been trying to figure out how to function in this early-stage dystopian world that is pulling us down, but I haven’t succeeded—perhaps because I refuse to concede that this is our future. Still, it’s impossible to look away (even for two days at the beach in Naples, Florida), to pause in the cycle of read, react, watch, rant. But I’m finally getting to the point when I must let other thoughts and ideas develop and be sustained. It is not an abdication of my duty as a citizen. Rather, it will enable me to continue the drumbeat of resistance without being drawn into the silence of despair and inertia.

I’m doing my part, getting involved as much as I can within the limitations of my personality. I tried stretching myself, but there’s just so much elasticity in desire. Still, I am trying to rise to the horrible occasion of so much self-serving dishonesty and greed, and a monochromatic palette of hatreds. I know I don’t have to explain anything to anyone, but I feel I must, especially since my writing mind generally veers into the personal, the contemplation of my life to understand myself and my world, and to, hopefully, help others along their contemplative paths. Since my guiding understanding has always been that if something interests me, concerns me, fascinates me, other people have those same curiosities; therefore, I feel I must state that just because my writing is not an endless howl at the pile-on of treacheries, that is not to say that I have acquiesced to acceptance. I am becoming the actions and voices that will enable me to resist and persist.

Alligator at rest