It’s New Year’s Eve, a time for reassessing our lives and ourselves. What have we learned? What have we achieved? Where have we failed? It’s a time when many set goals for the coming year.
If I am any indication, many of us keep setting the same goals and ignoring them as the years roll by. For example, there are books I thought I wanted to read, but never have. There are pounds I thought I wanted to lose which now have company. There are religious practices I thought I needed to follow that have gone unincorporated into my daily routine.
So this year I’ve had a good talk with myself and set goals that are based on thoughtful reflection of who I am and who I want to be.
Conservative rabbi Harold Kushner writes in his 1986 book, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, “Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve. Our souls are hungry for meaning; for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it.”
Despite the tragedies, frustrations, isolation, and inconveniences of this past year, it has given us many gifts, among which is the time to assess ourselves — our motivations, our priorities, our behavior. Today, as we turn over a new page in our lives, I’m setting goals that will help me live so that my life matters.
I’m going to take care of me, so that I’m available when my family and friends need me.
I’m going to pay special attention to my husband and family, so they know they are the most important people in my life.
I’m going to read more books.
I’m going to continue to write regularly because it forces me to think about what’s important.
To accomplish these goals, I have a list of activities, and one is to look at my goals every morning, so that I start each day reminded of their importance. Because if I forget what they are, they won’t become part of my routine. And having a routine is comforting in uncertain times like these, even for us spontaneous types. And when we’re comforted, we feel motivated and joyful and free to live so that our lives matter.
I will end my little essay with the following poem, which I hope will help you focus on the one main thing I believe will bring you joy in the coming year, and that is keeping your own company. Second to that would be carefully choosing all others with whom you spend your precious time.
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
I am struggling with the concept of blessings. The word “blessings” is being tossed around like confetti, but I’m not comfortable with it.
First of all, if blessings exist, are they from you or the universe you created?
Second, if I am blessed, are others not blessed? And how do they feel if I talk about my many blessings? Third, if my children and grandchildren are a blessing, is Parkinson’s a curse?
And fourth, if blessings are from you, what makes us feel we can give them to others? Do we have that much power?
I know for many of us, “Bless you” is just an expression, but I do wonder, especially when it seems to me that some of us are just lucky – lucky, for example, that we were born into a family where there was enough money for education and a culture around us that values it; lucky that we are good at sports; lucky that we have high emotional intelligence and people like us.
Mette Ivie Harrison says: “… when someone escapes a terrible car accident without a scratch, I am more likely to chalk this up to luck than I am to say that it was the hand of God. This does not mean that I would not be grateful if I survived an accident, only that I wouldn’t ascribe it to God’s choice to save me over the millions of other people who die in car accidents.
“Too many good people face terrible things for me to blithely say that I was blessed and they were not. Too many innocents are killed and too many wicked people spared for me to believe that God chooses the outcome of every event. I cannot accept that everything has a reason on this level. To insist that God oversees and approves all tragedies because He has a “plan” for all that pain seems to me to admit to a sadistic kind of father. I can’t look at the pain and suffering of those next to me and feel certain that they are “meant” to suffer and I am not. We are all meant to see each other’s needs and to help, regardless of either luck or blessing.” (“Mormon in progress,” “Huffpost” 6-11-17)
David Rokeach’s interpretation of a blessing makes sense to me: “The blessings we offer are indeed powerful but they are not magical. On our own, we do not have the power to cause that which we yearn for nor do we have the power to compel God by the force of our invocation (despite stories in both the Bible and Rabbinic sources of individuals who are seen as having such capacities). No, like our other prayers, blessings are aspirational; we express in word and gesture our deepest yearnings. A blessing is an expression of hope.” (Gates of Repentance New York: CCAR, 1978, pp. 13-14)
I believe in the power of prayer, and have felt my friends praying for me. And I feel that on occasion, you respond. And when you do, I think of that as a miracle (an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs), not a blessing (your favor and protection). And it is not because of me that it happens, but those who prayed for me. I did nothing to deserve it.
I’m liking the idea that a spoken blessing is “an expression of hope,” not a magical pronouncement, and that my good fortune is due to luck, but the prayers said for me may have gotten your attention.
So from now on, when someone says they are blessed, I will let it go. Perhaps they haven’t really thought about how it sounds to someone less-fortunate. Or maybe they see things differently. And that is their right.
COVID-19 is getting old. And experts agree that bringing it under control may take until the end of next year. In the meantime, I’m trying to find the good in it while being mindful of those who are sick or have lost a loved one or their job.
Most of the good from COVID-19 is a result of having more time to focus, to pay attention, to listen, to do one thing at a time.
I’m finishing books. I have a habit of starting books, geting two or three going at once, and then, because other activities come along, not finishing them. But I get interrupted less often lately, and the stack is going down. I’m reading more and for longer periods before I need to give my attention to another task.
I realized some time ago that the ability to focus is one of the advantages men have over the rest of us. It’s in their DNA. Since man walked the earth, he was a provider, a hunter, a protector, and those things require focus.
Women, on the other hand, bear the progeny, and kids make things messy and disorganized. So, it’s in our DNA to multi-task. We can nurse a baby while cooking, watching two other children, and talking on the phone.
But jobs get done better when there’s focus. So, the trick is to focus on those things worth doing. COVID-19 has kept my life simpler and with the added time, given me the clarity to do the things worth doing and let the others go.
Gene is reading for fun! He has never been that kind of a reader. Reading, for him, has always been something you needed to do – for school, for work, for getting something done. Reading was practical. Because we’re stuck at home, he has begun to read for the pure pleasure of it. And in true masculine style, he sticks with one book for several days until it’s finished. Reading books gives us something to talk about besides cars, trailers, air conditioners, and fishing. And it’s fun to hear him laughing at a passage or to listen to him read me something.
I’m writing with a sense of purpose. Facebook has been an outlet for my writing, but you can’t develop good stories or interesting ideas in just one or two paragraphs. Hence, my blog, which, at my daughter’s suggestion, I started on April 3rd. This is Blog Number 22!
There’s a lot involved. Selecting the topic is the toughest part of the process. Then there’s the writing and research, the organizing, the rewrites, the editing, and the adding of media. And I can’t omit the platform, which is like learning a new language, a clunky one, at best. All this is good brain exercise and keeps me from flitting from one activity to the next.
Gene and I are walking again. I can’t attend my exercise programs, so walking has been a lifesaver — if we get up early enough to beat the heat. We talk when we walk, and it’s a helpful way to touch base on our projects or just run things by each other.
I have a friend who says that men will do anything if it’s outside. I think that theory has some merit. Think about it: he doesn’t want to cook, ask him to grill; he doesn’t offer to help with the cleaning, ask him to blow off the patio and hose it down; he doesn’t communicate, go for a walk and try to get a word in.
Good friends are calling, and I’m calling them. We can give each other our full attention. We can share funny stories and make each other laugh. We can take our time and give each other the space to say it all; that’s hard to do in a text or email. I come away from these chats rejuvenated and comforted. And I think they do, too.
I’m putting my son’s mementos from preschool through 4th grade into a scrapbook. He’s 40 years old! I did this for his older sisters years ago, and I’ve started this project several times, only to have to clear off the dining room table and put everything away. Not this time. We never have company!
Gene and I do more together. This is a man who doesn’t want to be “mothered,” married to a nurturer. But because of COVID-19, he has let me learn to cut his hair. He seems to like the result and the money it saves. And I love doing it!
We fix lunch together, even if we go our separate ways to eat it. We team up on chores, e.g., he vacuums, I mop. We run expenditures by each other before we go out and buy something, rather than just ordering it because we suddenly have time. (Okay, this one’s entirely mine.)
He has felt from the beginning that I have “too many constituents.” Now I’m home most of the time, not running in so many directions. I can give him my full attention when he needs to tell me something. And all this leads to a better sex life, which seals the deal.
So, that’s my list. Taken individually, the items may sound mundane. But together, they contribute to health, intellectual stimulation, and richer relationships, and that means a happier life. At the root of it is the time to focus. And COVID-19 has given me this gift.
Ironic, isn’t it?
P.S. Please sign up for my blog. I’m curious to know who reads it. And if you would add comments about how COVID-19 has improved your life, I’d love to read them. Stay well.
I don’t know about you, but I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been able to escape the summer heat in Phoenix and have been living in a bit of a bubble during this time of COVID-19. I miss my kids and grandkids terribly, and I can’t wait to be with my friends again. But life has been full and interesting because Gene and I have been able to get away and have adventures.
On the other hand, families with kids at home are having an extremely hard time right now. And I can’t stop worrying about our children, all our children. COVID-19 looms like a huge specter, casting a gloomy shadow over our U.S. families.
If they can be home with their kids during the day, most parents are juggling childcare or their kids’ virtual school with work. They may feel guilty because, although they don’t have to put themselves in harm’s way like so many of our “essential workers,” they miss having a few minutes to themselves each day, even just the time they used to have in the car driving to and from work. Being with your kids 24 x 7 is not what God intended. That’s why we have grandparents and aunties. But because of COVID-19, many grandparents and aunties aren’t able, because of age, health issues, or distance, to come and save the day.
If kids are school-age, virtual learning is a crapshoot. Most kids have been given notebooks, but their teachers have never done this. Some schools are limiting the number of classes kids take each day, but if they are in two-hour blocks, that’s expecting a lot. After all, the average adult can only concentrate for 45 minutes. Why should an 11-year-old be any different? And those kids used to home schooling aren’t able to do the outside activities that normally break up the day, like children’s museums, playgrounds, bands, and sports teams. It’s boring to stay home all the time.
School-age kids, especially teens, want and need to be with their friends. That’s not easy right now, or even possible for some. Their parents must find that balance between giving them some freedom and holding them accountable. Kids may be uncooperative about virtual classes; they may be bored; they may be depressed. And in Arizona, it’s too hot most of the day to go outside, so they’re stuck in the house.
COVID-19 is an equal opportunity bummer.
For those parents who can’t stay home, for whom school is childcare, what are they supposed to do? In Arizona, our governor has mandated that schools find a way to take care of children whose parents are essential workers. We’ll see how that goes. A friend who serves on a local high school district board says their board is concerned that absenteeism is going to be at an all-time high as schools reopen and high schoolers stay home with their younger siblings.
I am a grandmother of 10, and I am grateful that my grandchildren are safe and healthy and have everything they need. Everything except a normal social life. But the absence of that one thing is causing frustration and unhappiness for them and their parents. And if the families who have all the basics are stressed and overwhelmed, imagine the challenges COVID-19 is posing for single parents, those without work, those with mental health and addiction issues, and those without the money to provide the basics.
If we’re among the lucky ones, we must find a way to help. We may not be able to provide childcare, but surely there are other things we can do.
How about if we look at the kids we know and think of ways to give their parents some support. Are our grandchildren doing ok? How about the children of friends? The neighbor kids? The kids that usually go to our church, synagogue, mosque, or temple?
If we have a swimming pool, how about inviting parents to bring their kids swimming? We can unlock the gate and wave from the house or patio. A change of scene can help the monotony. Or we could take them a craft kit with an extra pair of scissors, fabric, needles and thread; or one with a crochet needle, the YouTube URL for instructions, and yarn; or one with an extra hammer, some wood glue, nails, paint, paintbrush and the pre-cut wood to build a birdhouse. My grandson made a flute out of bamboo last spring. All the directions he needed were on YouTube.
If we love to cook, we could drop off a recipe with the needed ingredients, something the kids can make for the family. We could buy used DVDs that are kid-appropriate and drop them off for those days when parents are completely bereft of energy and would love to put on a movie for the kids to watch.
And how about kids we don’t know, the ones whose parents rely on nonprofit organizations for extra food, clothes, and toys? Now is a great time to go through our things with these kids in mind. It’s a win-win!
If we can afford it, we could go to Walmart or Target and pick up all kinds of goodies and drop them off at organizations we trust. They can get them to the right families.
When I return home the end of the month, I am challenging myself to do something for kids. And I challenge you to do the same. I may sound like Pollyanna, but it’s like the story of the young woman picking up starfish one-by-one and throwing them back into the sea: “It makes a difference to that one.”
Please join me in making a difference and come back here to my blog and share what you’ve done.
THIS BLOG HAS THREE PARTS. TOGETHER, THEY WILL TAKE ABOUT 20 MINUTES TO READ.
It was 2013 when King Tut died. As you can imagine, by then I had a collection of pet ashes. We decided to have a Pet Funeral when the kids were with us for Thanksgiving.
I thought it would be nice to gather under the big mesquite tree under the dining room window and bury the ashes of Libby, Allie, and Tut there, and recognize Sunny, too, even though we had already buried her in the herb garden. Since Gene and I had taken care of stepdaughter Katie’s bunny, Miss Piggy, while Katie was a visiting nurse in California, we included Miss Piggy in the ceremony.
David suggested hanging pictures of all the pets from the tree branches, so I bought little black frames and ribbon, and the day after Thanksgiving we got everything ready.
My father, an Episcopal priest, had written a prayer for a friend’s dog in 1939, when Papá was in his 20s.
A Prayer for Taffy
O Lord, we pray thee to receive into thy
kind hands this, thy servant, a dog. Look upon
him with the love thou showest all thy creatures;
and, as thou art the final judge of evil and
the eternal reward of good, take this clear heart,
faultless in our eyes, under thine own protection,
making such provision as thou hast ordained for
him in thy goodness. For, as the temptation
toward evil and the opportunity for good were
both less freely offered to him than to us, thou
knowest, Lord, what little evil was in him and
what great good. Finally, we are grateful that,
having lent him to our imperfect affection, thou
takest him back again to thee. Amen.
A few days before the service, I asked Aidan, our oldest grandson, who was nine, if he would read the prayer for Tut. He said, “Well, Nonnie, Tut and I never really hit if off. But I’ll read the prayer for Allie!” Then I went to daughter Annie and asked her if she would like to read the prayer for Tut. She said, “Tut and I were never that close, Mom. Why don’t you ask Mamá?” So much for Tut being the favored pet.
The big kids hung the pictures, daughter-in-law Kim helped me bring out my clay garden animals and some flowering bougainvillea. We gathered around the tree, read the prayer for each pet, and shared memories of them. David dug the holes around the tree, and Gene poured the ashes into the tiny graves and covered them with dirt. Grandsons Caleb and Asher, ages six and four, collected rocks and decorated the little mounds. It was a sweet day.
And as I think about the animals that have been a part of my life, I am thankful for each one of them.
Whether it’s trust or responsibility or the importance of consistency and predictability or simple affection or biology, our pets are some of our best teachers. They are role models for unconditional love.
But it hurts deeply when we lose them. And sometimes we wonder if we want to take that leap again because we know what’s going to happen: we’re going to lose our greeting committee, our biggest fans, our quiet companions, our exercise buddies, those who love us no matter what.
And we usually take the leap, figuring the many gifts they bring us far outweigh the pain we know will come when it’s time for them to leave.
this blog has three parts. together, they will take about 20 minutes to read.
So, on to the pets our children had. We started with guinea pigs, then bunnies and hamsters and hermit crabs and turtles, and finally dogs. (Annie was allergic to cat hair, so we skipped cats.)
In the late-70s, Annie and Phoebe were small, and we had guinea pigs; they were a cute diversion. After we moved, Phoebe got a big, gray lop eared rabbit we named Cottontail. About that time, we also got our first dog, Chester, a Lhasa Apso mix. Annie adored Chester. He was just her size, with a cute little body and a face to match. Although he was small, Chester wasn’t a barker; he was a lover. And Cottontail was a sweetheart. Cottontail and Chester were great buddies, and used to chase each other around the back yard, going one direction and then the other, taking turns doing the chasing.
We moved to North Central Phoenix, and one day, Cottontail got out of the yard and was nowhere to be found. I heard the sheepdog next door barking loudly, and when I looked through the fence, I and saw that he had Cottontail up against the wall. The poor bunny had dug under the fence and gotten into the neighbor’s yard, gotten himself cornered and, not knowing what to do, sat in fear, shaking all over. I ran next door and got him, rounded up the kids, and we sat with him in a circle in the grass. I could feel his little heart pounding. I held him in my arms while the kids took turns petting him and after a few minutes, he stopped breathing. There were a lot of tears that day. I imagine Chester was sad, too
Phoebe had several Hermit crabs, which all died attempting to move to a larger shell. We had a red-eared slider turtle, who also died. That was probably my fault, as I didn’t really know what to do with him.
Eventually, we got a dear little Holland Lop bunny for Phoebe. His name was Charlie, and he was a character. Phoebe trained him to use the litter box in his cage, and he lived in her room, keeping her company and humping her stuffed rabbits. (Yes, really!) David loved taking him on a leash for walks in the neighborhood. Charlie lived to be about 10, when he succumbed to an infection.
We had two hamsters, Apply Dappley and Ralph. Ralph was given to us by my friend Nancy, whose boys had lost interest in him. He was a sweet guy, but like so many hamsters, did not want to stay in his cage. One day he escaped. Two days went by, and I woke up late one night and walked out to the kitchen. I could hear scratching under the oven. I pulled out a drawer and saw two beady eyes looking at me from behind the partition. He couldn’t climb out.
I went to my dresser and found a bandana. I twisted it, dropped it down to Ralph, and literally prayed to God to help him find his way up the bandana and out on the drawer guide. He slowly crawled up and barely onto the guide when he fell back down. I tried again, and this time, he made it. I can still see him carefully walking out on the guide and into my hands. I put him in his cage, locked it up tight, and watched him drink an entire bottle of water. I went back to bed relieved and happy.
Two days later, Ralph was gone! And we never heard from him again.
When David was about 11, we got a black lab puppy, and named her Libby. She became David’s dog, and they were inseparable. Libby, like so many Labradors, was a destructive puppy. She ate through an entire Haitian cotton sectional while we were gone one day. I crate-trained her after that, and she was a changed girl.
When she got older, she slept with David. Even though she was a Labrador, the only way to get her to swim was for David to dive into the deep end of the pool and pretend to drown. He would call to her, and she would run to the pool, hesitate for a moment, jump in, and swim to him.
Libby and Chester were great pals, dashing out of the house if we didn’t pay attention and running around our cul-de-sac peeing on every bush they could find, having a great adventure. As Chester got older, he began to get grouchy, and I worried he might bite one of the children who liked to come over and play.
One day, the two dogs ran out the door, but only Libby returned. David and his dad went to find Chester, and they did, but he had been hit by a car and had died. They wrapped him in a towel and brought him home. When we buried Chester, he took a piece of our hearts with him. But he died having a great adventure.
About that time, David, knowing how much I loved birds, gave me a lutino cockatiel. It was too young to sex, so I named it Sunny. Sunny later produced two little eggs. So, then we knew. The other tip-off was that Sunny never spoke, which is typical of female cockatiels. She loved people, though, and sitting on my shoulder.
In the mid-90s, we decided to get another dog. After much research, I decided on a long-haired Dachshund. Shortly after I began looking for my dream dog, a friend at work brought in a homeless Golden Retriever mix puppy she and her husband had found tied to a tree downtown. All my research went out the window when I saw Allie, and I took her home. She was my dog and my faithful companion through my divorce in 1996 and living alone until I remarried in 2001. She helped me feel safe at night and took me for three walks a day.
And I mean it when I say that she took me for walks, stopping whenever she wanted to and pulling me this way and that. I found a trainer to help me, a Marine veteran. He was a no-nonsense guy, and he made it clear from the get-go that I was the one he was training, not Allie. And it worked. With the help of a choke collar, she became a dream dog, and our walks were fun!
One weekend when Phoebe was home, she, David, and I went to the Humane Society to pick out a cat. I had my heart set on a tuxedo, but an all-black kitty with gold eyes, the most relaxed kitty of any we met in the Get Acquainted Room, won us over. I named him King Tut, and he was my baby.
Libby lived with David and his dad after our divorce. She was the sweetest dog you could imagine, but as she got old, arthritis set in, and she wasn’t able to get up anymore. When it was time to say good-bye, I met David’s dad at the vet, and we patted her as she slowly let go and died. David was 17 and heartbroken. I gave him a big stuffed black lab for Christmas, and I think it helped a little, but nothing could take her place.
I met Gene in 1997. We were married in 2001 and moved to Tucson in 2002 with a dog, a cat, and a bird. I had married a man who lived like a monk, with little furniture and no pets, and he had married an animal lover.
Sunny had trouble adjusting to our Tucson house. I tried putting familiar artwork near her cage, setting her cage near the deck so she could see out, changing her diet… But she began screeching incessantly. I took her to a bird specialist, who said it could be that being by the window seeing the hawks and other birds scared her. Or perhaps she missed her old surroundings. Or maybe she was needing more attention. I did my best by her, and she seemed to calm down once we moved her away from the window. She loved being held and talked to and lived to be 19.
Although he had sworn never to have another dog, Gene was incredibly good to Allie. She got Valley Fever in Tucson, and it weakened her terribly. Our house was a tri-level, with no doggie door (we didn’t want Tut to go out and be eaten by a bobcat or hawk or snake or great horned owl, all of which we had in abundance on our acre of desert). The only way for Allie to do her business was to walk down two flights of stairs to the ground level and wait for one of us to let her out and back in. She weighed 62 pounds, and when she got too weak to walk downstairs, Gene carried her down and back up, so she could be with us.
While I was visiting my mother in Seattle, Allie was bitten by a snake, and poor Gene had to be the one to put her down. He may not have wanted a dog, but he got attached to Allie.
Tut was the last of my pets to go. He and Allie had been great pals, sitting together at the screen door watching the birds, sleeping together, and simply being companions. I’m sure he missed his doggie friend. When he got to be 16, his kidneys began to fail. Gene, who adored Tut, set up a MASH unit in the laundry room for his IV’s. We gave them to him several times a week, and they did wonders initially. But after a few weeks, he finally began to fight the treatments, and Dr. Kaufman, our vet, said, “Sometimes they’ve just had enough,” and we let him go. He was 17 and my sweet little man.
This blog has three parts. Together, they will take about 20 minutes to read.
I’m thinking today about the pets that have paraded through my life.
Yesterday we lost our beloved granddog, Bear, a big, sweet golden retriever who was only nine. Bear was struggling with lung cancer and could hardly breathe. He left a family of five in a state of heartbreak, but grateful nonetheless to have had this sweet boy in their lives.
We had a host of large dogs when I was growing up. My father wanted them, loved them, but neglected to train and discipline them. (My mother put up with a great deal, and never complained in my presence.) There was a standard black French Poodle, Antoine “Tony,” who jumped up on everyone; a Weimaraner, Gyp (because he was the color of gypsum), who could jump over the fence and did, regularly; a Dalmatian, Buttons, who liked to show up at our next door neighbors’ house before they even got up, and peel the caps off their milk bottles; and a French Briard, Cyrano, who wreaked havoc on our home, but was utterly loveable.
We had several cats. When I was eight, we moved from W. Roma to N. 16th Avenue. When the movers finished packing the van and it was time to get in the car to drive to our new house, we could not find Tigger. We looked everywhere and left in tears, doubting that we’d ever see him again. We arrived at the new house, and as the movers unrolled a mattress, there was Tigger, fast asleep!
We moved again when I was nine. Sirikit was a seal point Siamese, who was smart, typically talkative, and loved to jump up and grab my arms with her claws, leaving me with red scratches which I ignored in favor of the game. Sirikit produced a beautiful litter of kitties. I’ll never forget lying on my stomach, head in the closet, watching them being born. It was like a magic show!
When I was 12, my father gave me a beautiful Maltese Persian he had found at the Humane Society. We named her Mrs. Wiggs, even though she was at least five and must have had a name. Mrs. Wiggs turned out to be one of those cats who can’t decide where she wants to be at night; in other words, she was neurotic. And it was clear that her place of choice was not my bed. She went in and out the window with my help, waking me several times a night. I was okay with that because I loved this kitty. But while I was visiting my great aunt for two weeks in South Pasadena, Mrs. Wiggs transferred her night-time badgering to my parents. And when I returned from my trip, Mrs. Wiggs was gone.
At some point, my dad bought a beautiful gray and white cockatiel and named him Mr. Bird. He was adorable, and although he didn’t talk much, he could say Hello and sing the first few bars of “Yankee Doodle.”
Mr. Bird loved my sister Alice’s hair, which was thick and curly, and he liked to ride around the house on her head. One day, Alice forgot he was there and walked outside. Away flew Mr. Bird, never to be seen again. Until one day, about 10 years later, I found myself in the neighbors’ kitchen, where I spotted a cockatiel in a cage. I asked about the bird, and Mrs. Johnson said, “Yes, it’s quite a story. One day we were sitting outside, and he landed in the pool! We picked him up and got him a cage, and he’s been with us ever since.” Lucky Mr. Bird.
My father had a host of aquariums lining one wall of his study. I loved the clown loach, the plecostomus, the corydora catfish, the red tail shark, and the Bala shark. I became his assistant fish-keeper.
We had seahorses for a while, which are very delicate fish, and Papá grew brine shrimp in a special tank for them, hoping to see the mating ritual, with male and female holding tails and promenading around the tank, followed by the laying of her eggs in the male’s pouch (at which point he seals it until the babies are ready to come out). I don’t remember that ever happening. But it was fun hoping.
When I was about 11, Papá was given a baby alligator he named Albert. Each night he would make a little ground beef meat ball for Albert, roll it in fine breadcrumbs, and put it on the rock in Albert’s aquarium. Albert would climb up and grab the thing, devouring it happily. Albert finally got too big to keep, and Papa donated him to the Phoenix Zoo.
We also had bettas (Siamese fighting fish), and it was fascinating to watch them breed. We watched the male build a bubble nest at the top of the breeding tank. Then Papá removed the glass separating the pair, and the male wrapped himself around the female until her eggs came floating out. He scooped them up in his mouth and put them in the nest. The female was then put in a different tank, while the male watched the nest. As the babies hatched, they fell from the nest and unfolded like tiny leaves. The male put them back until they could swim. And then dad had to go back to his own home.
The point of all this is to say that pets teach us so much!
CHANGES OF SCENE ARE A GOOD THING, and SO ARE FRIENDS
Gene and I just celebrated our 19th anniversary. Ironically, after 19 weeks of social distancing, I think we’re ready to socially distance from each other. (Don’t worry; that’s a joke.)
Like most of us, in all these months, we’ve seen very few of our friends “live and in person.” And we miss them! The last time we entertained was on May 6th. Our neighbors Lynne and Bob came over at 7:30 a.m. for coffee and Bloody Marys on the patio. (We needed to be outside to socially-distance, and since we live in Phoenix, early morning seemed like the best time.)
In fact, since the disappearance of life as we know it, our social life has been almost non-existent. We’ve been to our friend Gail’s house for the best take-out dinner ever, seated at opposite ends of her dining table, and we joined Tempe friends Pat and Steve here in San Diego for seafood and a long walk on the beach. That’s it.
We’ve been able to rendezvous with family in various parts of northern Arizona, and in their yards and ours. Those visits have been our saving grace. But still, we miss our friends.
Added to the social isolation has been the pressure of being in our trailer for weeks at a time. We feel lucky to have our little house on wheels because it has allowed us a change of scene. But we’re talking 120 square feet! Have you ever tried to remove roasted vegetables from an oven in a space about three feet wide? Or taken a shower in a bathroom where getting undressed requires the dexterity of a contortionist?
This month, thank God, we’ve been in a little bungalow in San Diego with our kitties. It feels spacious, compared to the trailer. But being in another town for a month, even one with the most heavenly weather possible, poses problems, too.
I have plenty to do: reading, writing, talking on the phone with my kids and sisters, emailing and texting friends, cleaning, laundry, Facebook, Words with Friends. We cook, go for walks, fish, picnic at the beach, talk, and talk some more. Gene reads, goes to the driving range and fishes alone occasionally. But there are no projects here, no “Honey Do’s.” And this is “Mr. Fix-it.” The poor guy is bored.
So, we’re starting to drive each other nuts. He’s noticing every annoying habit I have, and I’m noticing that he has a few himself. The differences between us are more obvious because we’re together so much.
It turns out I have gotten particular. About a lot of things. I used to think when Gene asked me to go with him to the store, he just wanted help. It turns out he wants me there to be sure he doesn’t bring home the wrong items, e.g., salted butter instead of unsalted, plain olive oil instead of Extra Virgin First Cold Pressed, thin pork chops instead of thick ones, red delicious apples instead of honey crisp. Not only are my grocery lists missing detail; they’re impossible to read! So now I know.
I can fix the grocery list. But a tougher challenge is the way we make decisions. Have you ever taken the color test for personality traits? Well, I’m a blue; Gene’s a green. I’m quick and spontaneous, the “let’s get it done” type. Gene is slow and deliberate, the “let’s get it done right” type, He wants to gather every bit of information he can find before making a decision, and I’m talking small (to me) decisions like which beach today or which wine with dinner. I welcome his style if, to me, it’s a decision worthy of his level of scrutiny. But sometimes, I just need to move in a direction, any direction, even the wrong direction. In my head I’m shouting, PLEASE, LET’S JUST MOVE!
So, we’re trying to find things to do alone, like more reading and fishing. And it’s no wonder he wants to go fishing at Blacks Beach, where clothing is optional. He can fish and watch pretty girls go by “optionally” clothed. Time is not of the essence. (The stickler is that it’s 1,000 steps from the top of the trail down to the beach, a truly death-defying walk for a guy in his 70s, even one in good shape. And he’s got to carry a rod, a tackle box, towel, phone, snacks, water, a colander to catch sand crabs, and an empty water bottle to keep them in. I’m not concerned that this will become a habit.)
And while he’s fishing, I’ll think about all the reasons I’m glad we’re married, and welcome him home with a big kiss.
DID YOU EVER NOTICE WHEN YOU SHARE A SECRET, OTHERS OPEN UP TO YOU?
Last year I reconnected through Facebook with a woman I haven’t seen in over 50 years. We recently found ourselves in the same town on vacation and got together for an outside lunch, where we could be socially distant. Lunch turned into a five-hour catch-up session.
She asked me all kinds of questions, based on my Facebook posts and blogs, and I tried to be truthful and open.
Then I asked her to take me through her life. It was riveting. Listening to her felt like being on a runaway roller coaster, and I thought I might throw up at one point. As she ended her story, I was teary, imagining how hard it must have been to endure her many disappointments. She said, “You know, I’ve shared all this with only two other people because you’re the only ones who’ve asked me.” And I now feel so close to this woman, even though we’re very different.
That was an aha moment for me. It helped me realize that a lot of people want to share their secrets, but no one asks them to. We don’t bother to pick up the phone or make a date to talk alone with people who are not comfortable sharing their secrets in a group setting. And why is it important to share secrets and listen to secrets? Because it helps us understand and develop compassion for others. And with that compassion comes an increased ability to love others, people of all kinds.
Facebook is a place where we highlight the fun times. It’s not necessarily that we’re hiding who we really are; perhaps we just don’t want to be depressing. Or maybe we’re very private. I have noticed, though, when people do share bad or disappointing news on Facebook, there is usually an outpouring of love and support.
But not everyone wants to take that chance, to be vulnerable. Sometimes we need to give them that chance.
I’ve found that sharing secrets is a bonding agent. I’m in a book club that was formed over 20 years ago. Every once in a while someone in the group shares a secret. The empathy in the room is palpable! And the group is tighter than ever.
My friend Catherine Penn Williams, a Jungian therapist, has introduced me to some marvelous people through quotes on her Facebook pages. One of these people is Frederick Buechner. In his 1991 memoir, Telling Secrets, Buechner, who is now 94 years old, says, “What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier . . . for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own…”
I want to be the real thing. I don’t want to lose track of who I “truly and fully’ am. And if that means sharing secrets and making myself vulnerable, I’ll take the risk.
I HAVE SPENT A LOT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT MOTHER NATURE
I have spent a lot of time thinking about Mother Nature, especially lately, and wondering about the relationship between God and Nature. I’ve never blamed God for bad things, even when I had breast cancer. In fact, when I attended a support group and found out it was called Why Me? I thought, “Why not me?”
This COVID-19 pandemic gives one pause and makes me want to understand how the world works when one believes in a caring God.
In his May 19th Opinion piece in The New York Times, Tom Friedman describes Mother Nature as “just chemistry, biology and physics… Mother Nature is not only all powerful, she’s also unfeeling. Unlike that merciful God that most humans worship, Mother Nature doesn’t keep score. She can inflict her virus on your grandmother on Monday and blow down your house with a tornado on Wednesday and come back on Friday and flood your basement. She can hit you in the spring, give you a warm hug in summer and hammer you in the fall.“As such, telling her that you’re fed up with being locked down — that it’s enough already! — doesn’t actually register with her.”
I recently listened to a sermon by an Episcopal priest in which the priest, in discussing the Trinity, compared God the Father to Mother Nature. Well, I can’t buy that. No, I believe in a God who created us and Mother Nature. I believe God cares, that telling God you’re fed up does register, and that helps me accept the current situation and turn to God for solace, even as the world is running amok.
C.S. Lewis, the British writer and lay theologian, in his 1948 essay entitled “On Living in an Atomic Age,” put it this way: “What, then, is Nature, and how do we come to be imprisoned in a system so alien to us? Oddly enough, the question becomes much less sinister the moment one realizes that Nature is not all. Mistaken for our mother, she is terrifying and even abominable. But if she is only our sister – if she and we have a common Creator – if she is our sparring partner – then the situation is quite tolerable.”
Of course, Lewis is talking hypothetically about the atomic bomb; we are living with a virus that is actually killing people all over the world by the thousands. So the situation is not “quite tolerable” for the many who are suffering and those who love them.
But still, if we listen to Lewis’s words and substitute COVID-19 for the atomic bomb, our situation can be seen in a new light: “Do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb (COVID-19) was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways… It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb (COVID-19), let that bomb (coronavirus) when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children… not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs (viruses). They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”
I am convinced that fear lowers your resistance. I’m also convinced that thinking and talking about bad things gives them power and contributes to that fear. I’m taking COVID-19 seriously. I’m wearing a face mask when it’s appropriate and I’m practicing social distancing. But I’m not going to let it dominate my mind. I’m going to continue to do “sensible and human things.”