Karma

I DON’T THINK A LOT ABOUT KARMA

I don’t think a lot about karma (the Hindu view of causality, i.e., good deeds lead to beneficial effects and bad deeds to harmful ones). Being a Christian, I operate on the Judeo-Christian take on Karma: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6) What’s the difference? It’s subtle. I think Solomon means that we should do good, and even if we don’t see an immediate return to us, in one way or another, it will make the world (and us) better.    

But I recognize karma when I see it. And a good example stands out in my memories of the 15 years Gene and I spent in wonderful Tucson, Arizona.

We moved there to have an adventure. We’d been married a year. I had nowhere to go in my career, and was ready for a change (After all, it had been almost seven years. You know the saying…). I had developed a love of Tucson during my years with the Arizona Community Foundation as director of ArizonaGIVES and then with Ballet Arizona during Nutcracker season.

So, when a former employee of Gene’s implored him to meet her father and talk to him about running his software business in Tucson, he agreed. I remember that meeting well. We were outside at a picnic table. Her father had sunglasses on the whole time; that should have tipped us off.

We moved to Tucson, and Gene was excited for a new challenge. The business needed him. The owner had gotten tired and needed to retire. He promised Gene he would stay out of the way and let him work his magic. You see, Gene had turned several computer businesses around. It’s what he does: he fixes things. (He’s still working on me. And for those of you familiar with the Enneagram, yes, he’s a 1.)

For a solid year, Gene put his heart and soul into that business, building a remarkable team and creating a marketing plan that put the company on an upward trajectory. It wasn’t easy. The owner was a belligerent bully, constantly interfering. In spite of that, profits began to climb. And then, Bam! The owner met with Gene and told him he had sold the business, and the new owner wanted to run it. Gene was out.

Now my husband is no fool. He had made provisions in his contract for just such a possibility, and the owner now owed him quite a lot of money. Getting the owner to pay him was another matter. In fact, it was the ordeal from Hell.

Finally, a date was set, and the two men met at the bank. The owner had given the banker instructions to have the money there in one-dollar bills and wanted Gene to list each dollar by its serial number and sign for it. I am not making this up.

Gene stood up and walked out.

He called his lawyer in Phoenix, a long-time friend, and asked him for advice. He suggested Gene hire a “no bullshit lawyer” in Tucson, set a new meeting, and take the attorney along. Gene found the perfect lawyer: a smart, intimidating man who wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat and had “Take no prisoners” practically written across his forehead. He looked to be about 7 feet tall.

They arrived at the bank. The owner took one look at Gene’s attorney and gave Gene a cashier’s check for the money he owed him. Done.

Gene spent the next year looking at businesses to buy. He found one: a computer business owned by a brilliant, but quirky guy who knew he lacked the business acumen and marketing skills he needed to grow the business. Gene bought it. The owner was willing to stay on for six months of consulting. It was perfect.

And the owner of the first company? Six months later he was dead of cancer.

Felt like karma to me.

Contrast

C.S. LEWIS IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors. I became a fan the summer after 5th grade, when I read The Chronicles of Narnia, and wept when I finished the last one – not so much because of the sadness of the tale, but that it was over.

Turns out, Lewis was close friends with J. R. R. Tolkien. In fact, Tolkien led Lewis back to Anglicanism after years of his having been an atheist.

Lewis was to become a great theologian. In my senior year of high school I read his book, Mere Christianity, and the concept of contrast hit home: the idea that without rain, we wouldn’t appreciate sunshine; without pain, we wouldn’t feel comfort; without cruelty, we wouldn’t see kindness; without terror, we wouldn’t know peace; without evil, we wouldn’t recognize good. Contrast is instrumental to our appreciating what we have because if we aren’t threatened with its loss, we take it for granted.

And as we stay home during this horrendous pandemic, I do think it helps to appreciate, feel, see, know, and recognize all the positives. Where we see hunger, ill-health, poverty, suffering, injustice, and untimely death, we also see amazing heroism. “Look for the helpers,” as Mr. Rogers said.

I see them all around us — in my neighbors, who are checking in on those who are alone; in the young man who shopped for us with such care and delivered our groceries with a respectful bow; in my friend Rita, who is sewing masks for service members and their families; in clergy conducting online services from home; in doctors opening their offices to ill patients; in our daughter Katie, who is a NICU nurse, and goes dutifully to her 12-hour shifts at the hospital, leaving behind her husband and three small children; in our newscasters broadcasting from home; in our restaurant workers, who cook our “to go” orders and serve us with a smile; to the grocery store workers, who diligently stock the shelves, sanitize the carts, and man the check-out counters; to volunteers who are calling to check on the vulnerable who are home alone.

I see “the helpers” with immigrant children who are separated from their parents. And I see them in the prisons, with those who feel hopeless.

As they go about their business, ‘the helpers” unconsciously model the good in this situation: the opportunity to be our best selves. Without realizing it, they are challenging us to join their ranks, to do what we can. And we all can do something.

Yes, life is filled with contrasts. And when this damned COVID-19 is over, and we have witnessed the great good in humanity, perhaps we will be better people, and the world will be a better place.

Home Sweet Home on the Road

LET ME SET THE STAGE

Let me set the stage: I am married to a frustrated forest ranger.  My man is an introvert, a very focused guy, a guy who knows a lot about a lot of things, a guy who was happily living like a monk when I met him. And I’m a people person.

It all started with an ad I ran in the “Meet Your Match” section of The Arizona Republic.  My friend Len Young decided I was bored. So she helped me write the ad, and I sent it in and recorded a three-minute phone message about myself.    

You see, back in 1997, internet dating wasn’t de rigueur. (That’s an homage to my French teacher, Madame Pallissard.)  People ran ads, and those who were intrigued paid the paper by calling a 900 number to listen to the advertiser. I received about 10 messages, and returned all but one, which belonged to a man whose accent was so thick I couldn’t understand him.

After talking to my potential dates, I decided I wanted to meet Gene. He has a wonderful voice, for one thing, had left a very articulate response to my message, and was self-deprecating, unlike the rest, who sounded more like job interviewees than potential friends. So I checked him out by calling his workplace and asking for his title and address. He appeared to be legit.

We met for breakfast, played golf a couple of times, went fishing, and started dating. Three years later, after two broken engagements and while I was mid-way through chemotherapy for breast cancer, we got back together. I found that I couldn’t live without him. Literally. On June 22, 2001, we were married.     

Jump to today. We are camping in Payson, Arizona, in our travel trailer. Now doesn’t that sound romantic? Well, guess again. And picture a guy who just 10 days ago was diagnosed with Bells Palsy, while we were camping in Cottonwood, Arizona. He was determined to get out of the house after being home for a week because of the coronavirus.

I love to go camping; I really do. But the getting there and the coming home are a lot of work. There’s hiring the kitty-sitter, planning the food, grocery shopping, gathering the fishing stuff, packing clothes and toiletries, bringing things to do if it rains, and leaving the house clean, in case we’re killed on the road.

Once there, I make the bed (like wrestling a bear), put the food away (picture squeezing into Spankx), and organize our things (imagine limited space and, even more important, limited sockets).

And then there’s Gene’s part: packing the car, hooking up the trailer, driving to our campground, parking the trailer (the true test of love and commitment), removing the stabilizing bars (I always imagine him losing one of his arms to this part), unhooking the car, connecting the water hose, installing the sewer hose, and plugging into the electricity. You can see why I’m concerned about all this work in his present condition.

So here we are, having driven each other nuts trying to get the trailer properly positioned and level. It takes a few tries.

Me: “Can you pull up and I’ll try one of those boards under the tires?” He pulls up. I lay down the board, and he backs up over it until I shout, “Stop!” Me again: “How about if you pull up and I’ll try the thinner board?” Same thing. Me again: “I think we need one thick board and two thin ones on top of it. Can you pull up again?”) Finally, the trailer is fairly level, and I am completely insulted, as he has talked to me as if I’m an idiot, just because he couldn’t hear or see me while I was directing him. And then he tops it off with this: “I’m not sure you’re in tune with my needs.”

So I get organized inside, and he enjoys the great outdoors and has a glass of wine. And slowly, as we eat dinner (reheated pork loin with peaches, mashed cauliflower, tabbouleh, and chocolate chip cookies, with more White Burgundy), we relax and begin to talk again.

I’m reminded of telling both my girls, once they were old enough to think about marriage. “Chemistry is important; it gets you through the tough times.” A glass of wine, a nice dinner, and the cuteness factor. Thank God for the cuteness factor.

What Is This?

I HAVEN’T SLEPT WELL LATELY.

I haven’t slept well lately. I wake up worrying about my husband, our children, their children, our pets, my health, my friends — especially those who are single or have health issues, healthcare workers, people who stock our grocery stores and check us out, immigrant families in detention centers, what our president might do next or not do, the world…

My life has changed dramatically in just a few weeks. No visits with kids and grandkids, no workouts in the gym, no church, no French class, no dance class, no boxing class, no choir, no in-person meetings, no social life.

I go about my days and try to keep an “attitude of gratitude.” After all, I’m one of the lucky ones. I can talk on the phone and FaceTime. I can work in the garden and take walks. I can read and watch TV. We can go camping with our trailer and change environments. But the lack of connectedness to other people is palpable.

I feel overwhelmed and powerless. My life as I know it is gone, at least for the present. An article I read in the Harvard Business Review pinpointed what I’m feeling: grief. And as the author, Scott Berinato, says, “If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it.”

His piece, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief,” March 23, 2020, HBR, centers on an interview with David Kessler, who co-wrote with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss

Kessler says, “We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

“We’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.”

I feel better having a label for my feelings. It allows me to breathe, to move around in my world, to appreciate the things I do have, to find new ways of living and being, and to remember that the most important things are the people we love and care about.

I can reach out to my family and friends – through phone calls, text messages, emails, FaceTime, Zoom, cards and letters, walks while we talk, birthday cakes dropped off at front doors, and prayer. I am not powerless to let them know I’m thinking about them, and I can do something each day to stay connected.

And in time, life will be “normal” again, even if it’s different.

Life with Parkinson’s

SOME DAYS

Some days when I wake up, I can’t see the time — on the clock on Gene’s bedside table or the one on my phone. My right leg is twitching , my toes are cramping and feel glued together, my back is stiff and achy, and my balance is … well, It’s shit. I must look drunk on the way to the bathroom.

But I take my meds, brush my teeth, and have a cup of coffee. I may be shaking on the right side, but within an hour, I’m doing pretty well. And if I stick to my schedule, the meds keep my tremor under control.

Such is my life with Parkinson’s. And yet, when I got an automated call yesterday from my health insurance provider, I answered “very good” to the question about my current state of health because, except for the Parkinson’s, it is very good. After all, when asked if I had this health issue or that one, I was able to answer “no” to every one of them. That’s because they didn’t ask me if I had Parkinson’s — or any movement disorder, for that matter.

The truth is, I can do pretty much whatever I want to, thanks to good medicine (doctors and chemicals) and lots of exercise. Like Alan Alda, my motto is “Keep moving.” And so I do. I work out with a trainer on Monday and Friday, go to a boxing class on Tuesday,  attend a Dance for Parkinson’s class on Wednesday, walk, hike, and garden.

This is my trainer Matt Jarvis, with me. Under normal circumstances, I work out with Matt twice a week, in a group.

On Thursday, I attend Tremble Clefs, a choir of people with Parkinson’s (and a few care givers), directed by a music therapist. You see, Parkinson’s tries to make everything controlled by your nervous system smaller — your movements, your handwriting, even your voice.

Having lived in San Francisco, Seattle, Faribault, MN, Phoenix, and Tucson, and having worked most of my life, I have lots of friends. And being in the Phoenix area with our five children (Gene’s two and my three) and 10 grandchildren, there is, under normal circumstances, lots of interaction with people of all ages.

This is my husband Gene and me with our nine grandchildren. The 10th, a baby boy,
was born 2 months later.

So I go about my days like anyone else, constantly aware of my disorder, but pretty much ignoring it. Even in this surreal time of COVID-19, life is good. And I am grateful.

Life with Parkinson’s

SOME DAYS

Some days when I wake up, I can’t see the time — on the clock on Gene’s bedside table or the one on my phone. My right leg is twitching , my toes are cramping and feel glued together, my back is stiff and achy, and my balance is … well, It’s shit. I must look drunk on the way to the bathroom.

But I take my meds, brush my teeth, and have a cup of coffee. i may be shaking on the right side, but within an hour, I’m doing pretty well. And if I stick to my schedule, the meds keep my tremor under control.

Such is my life with Parkinson’s. And yet, when I got an automated call yesterday from my health insurance provider, I answered “very good” to the question about my current state of health because, except for the Parkinson’s, it is very good. After all, when asked if I had this health issue or that one, I was able to answer “no” to every one of them. That’s because they didn’t ask me if I had Parkinson’s — or any movement disorder, for that matter.

The truth is, I can do pretty much whatever I want to, thanks to good medicine (doctors and chemicals) and lots of exercise. Like Alan Alda, my motto is “Keep moving.” And so I do. I work out with a trainer on Monday and Friday, go to a boxing class on Tuesday,  attend a Dance for Parkinson’s class on Wednesday, walk, hike, and garden.

On Thursday, I attend Tremble Clefs, a choir of people with Parkinson’s (and a few care givers), directed by a music therapist. You see, Parkinson’s tries to make everything controlled by your nervous system smaller — your movements, your handwriting, even your voice.

Having lived in San Francisco, Seattle, Faribault, MN, Phoenix, and Tucson, and having worked most of my life, I have lots of friends. And being in the Phoenix area with our five children (Gene’s two and my three) and 10 grandchildren, there is, under normal circumstances, lots of interaction with people of all ages.

So I go about my days like anyone else, constantly aware of my disorder, but pretty much ignoring it. Even in this surreal time of COVID-19, life is good. And I am grateful.

My Ikigai

wHAT IS AN IKIGAI?

What is an ikigai? Roughly translated from Japanese, it’s a “reason for being.” Some people explain it with a diagram of four intersecting circles: your values,  things you like to do,  things you’re good at, and what the world needs. The convergence of those things is your ikigai.

For me, it’s writing. Writing is the thing that can get me out of bed in the middle of the night because I simply must do it. Anne Lamott says the key to writing is keeping your “butt in the chair.” That’s not a problem for me. My problem is getting my butt out of the chair!

And when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I may think about is rewriting what I’ve written. It’s a self-imposed challenge to get a piece perfect. Of course it’s an impossible task, so I’ve learned to “cut bait” and move on. But I do love the process.

Another thing Anne Lamott says about writing is, “Every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” I love that. And I can think of plenty of stories about people in my life who “should have behaved better.” But those are for another time.

Today is not a good day for a sad story. Today, in honor of France and all they’re going through with COVID-19, I’m going to write about a French stranger who was kind to me last May, while we were traveling the country.

Gene and I were staying in a little hotel right on the Place de L’Horloge in Avignon’s city center. He was in bed with a bad cold, so I offered to go find dinner to-go. Across the Place is a gigantic “food court,” a line of outdoor cafes, with men in front of each one hawking their wares. There are large poster menus on easels in front of each restaurant.

I found a menu that had soup, and asked if I could get it “to-go” because my husband was sick in bed. The man said, “I’m sorry, madame,  we only can package hamburgers and pizza to-go. I said, “Thank-you anyway,” and turned to leave. He said, “Wait, madame. Where are you staying?” “Across the Place at Hotel De H’horloge,” I answered. “Well, Madame,” he said, “if you can wait about 20 minutes, we will fix a tray for you, and if you will please bring it back, you may take it to your husband.”

I ordered minestrone, caprese, and lasagna, paid, and sat down to wait. In about 20 minutes, out comes my lovely man, who’s about 5′ 8″, carrying a gigantic tray covered with a white linen cloth. He lowers the tray, uncovers it, and shows me crocks of hot soup and lasagna, a plate of caprese, dinner plates, cloth napkins, silverware, and little salt and pepper shakers. I stand up, he looks at me, and waves over a tall waiter, explaining to him in French that he needs to follow me to my hotel room with the tray.

Off we go across the Place, into the hotel, up the tiny lift, and across the hall to our room. I knock on the door and Gene answers, expecting me with a ham sandwich. Instead, here we are with a huge tray of food, which the waiter proceeds to set out on our desk, as if it’s a dining room table. I thank him politely, give him a tip, and away he goes.

Gene and I stand there, eyes wide open in disbelief. We put towels on the bed, plate our beautiful meal, and begin to eat. Five minutes later, there’s a knock on the door. It’s the waiter. “Pardon, Madame,” he says. “We forgot the bread!”  With that, he hands me a basket of bread and disappears. You see, in France you would never think of serving a meal without bread.


 

Back in the Saddle

Retirement is a Misnomer; My Purpose Hasn’t Changed

It’s been two years since I retired from my full time position with Arizona Theatre Company, and the main thing I miss is the writing. So I’ve decided to take my daughter’s advice and start blogging. Even if no one reads my blogs, I will enjoy writing them. So “I’m back in the saddle.”

Why is the word “retirement” a misnomer? At least, for me? Some people die — literally — of boredom, once they retire. They feel purposeless and don’t know how to fill their days. They get depressed. They give up on their new-found freedom.

Not me. I haven’t looked back. This is time I never had when I was working, time to do things purely for pleasure and in the process, be inspired every day by the interesting people I share the planet with. It is “indescribably delicious,” as the Mounds wrapper says. And I feel lucky.

What things am I talking about? Well, I will tell you in upcoming blogs. But for now, let’s just say I’m having more fun than anyone deserves to have! And I think it’s because, like the Japanese, I have an  ikigai (pronounced like “icky guy”), a reason to wake up in the morning. The reason may change from day to day, but it’s nearly always there.

And in the next blog, I’ll tell you about it.