OUR CHILD

Last Sunday, CBS ran a piece on the Sackler family and their profiteering from opioid production and deceitful marketing.  Their company, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin plead guilty to three federal criminal charges for their role in creating our nation’s opioid crisis which has killed half a million people in the last 20 years.  As their name was removed from countless buildings around the world, there was another death.

This young man, the son of a very, close friend, was given a street Percocet laced with Fentanyl.  It stopped his heart.  Now before you criticize him, pause a moment to reflect on your own teenage years.   Do you ever count yourself lucky for getting away with things that might well have killed you back in the day?  I do.  He was 19, returning to college this fall, had a part time job at Home Depot and was teaching tennis lessons to kids. 

Our nation’s drug crisis is not trivial.  It is endemic and so deeply woven into the fabric of our communities that not one of us are immune to its’ peril and all of us have been touched, even tangentially. This child is not just my friend’s son.  He is our child and we have lost him forever.

We can do better.  So, while this mother grieves for what was and now will never be, we must see ALL children as our OWN. You can make a difference in your community. Who knows, you might even give a kid a second chance to grow up.

  1.  Encourage the use and distribution of Narcan, which can save someone from an overdose.  It should be available and affordable to anyone that might need it.  At present, it’s only legal in 8 states and astronomically expensive .  
  2.  Ask the courts to assign ‘help’ time not ‘jail’ time for our addicts and ‘REAL’ time for the dealers.  
  3. Insist that lawmakers tighten controls on prescription writing so that pills don’t keep falling into the hands of our children.
  4. Instead of penalizing drug companies AFTER the fact, hold them accountable NOW in both their product and marketing!!

Ironically, the Sacklers lost a son of their own.  He was an addict and committed suicide in the 70’s.  They never mention him.  

GET THE DAMN SHOT

My oldest daughter came home for a visit yesterday and as we walked across the patio she said, “Oh, Mom.  I love how you haven’t pulled the weeds.  It makes everything so GREEN!”  She was serious.  I was dumbstruck.  What a wonderful world this would be if all of us found that kind of positivity in a gnarl of chaos.

Since her visit, I have thought about moments recently where I could have employed that same outlook but didn’t.  What first came to mind was being cut off in traffic, mid-turn by a woman in a huge, pickup truck.  She blew through a red light and even though I had a green arrow, I had to slam on my brakes mid-turn to let her pass.  Lucky for me, she was going to Trader Joe’s, too.  Yes, I followed her in.  Yes, I stood outside her huge, orange truck looking up at her and waited for her to emerge.  When she did, here is what I should have said:  “How fortunate I am that you drive such a BIG truck I was able to see you in time and slam on my brakes when you ran that red light!“

When a friend of many years sent me a bizarre, far right, conspiracy video complete with grossly, false statements, here is what I should have replied:  “How wonderful I have your emails to remind me that some seemingly, normal people really are duped by QAnon conspirators!” 

When my tennis partner hit the ball to the net player for the third time in a row and I got blasted, she turned to me and said, “Look.  You need to be ready for those.”  She was dead serious.  I was speechless.  Here is what I should have said.  “How lucky I am that you’re so good at continually placing me in jeopardy!  I’m sure it will quicken my reactions in no time!”

 My daughter has given me inspiration.  Now I need to apply it to my next challenge:  a friend who is at high risk for Covid, has young children, is single and lives at the poverty level has just told me she is NOT getting the vaccine because she, ‘does not trust what’s in it.’  Here is what I am going to say:  “You don’t know what’s in bologna but you eat that!  Get the damn shot!”           

GENERATION (wh)Y NOT?

I love meeting new people.  Since the pandemic began, I’ve met more, younger ones than usual.  Perhaps it’s because the older folks are sheltering indoors.  It might also be that our youth are reaching out more.  Such was the case with the smiling fellow above.  

I ran into Josh in the parking lot of the gas station.  He was doing circles on his Onewheel; a cool contraption like a motorized skateboard that moves with your balance.  He is riding it from Florida to California, “Because I love America and really wanted to see it up close.”  If only his enthusiasm and affection for our country would rub off on the disgruntled among us, particularly those who spread their foment and feces through the halls of the Capitol last week.  

At 25, Josh has heart, imagination, gumption, and purpose but he is certainly not alone.  Who can forget Malala Yousafzai, 22, the young girl shot in the head by the Taliban as she rode her bus to school seven years ago?  She single-handedly shone the spotlight on the dearth of education for women in poor countries.  The activist and author is also the youngest to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  

These kids from Gen Y are hitting it out of the park. Their passion for life as well as their compassion for their fellow humans is beyond measure.  They are not asking what their country can do for them.  They are showing what they can do, in their own, unique ways.  I cannot WAIT until they’re in power!  In a sense, they already are.

I also had the good fortune to cross paths with another interesting fellow whom you should know about.  James Kanoff, 22, a Stanford student, started Farm Link with a group of like-minded peers during the pandemic.  They help distribute excess produce from farms into the mouths of the hungry.  Check them out and see if you can be part of Generation (wh)Y Not, too.  If you’re lucky, you just might meet someone new! 

https://www.farmlinkproject.org/about-us

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

No one’s in it.  I had the entire mall to myself this morning.  Where is everyone?  Holding out at home, too terrified to risk contagion at any cost.

Soon there won’t be any excuse for that.  We won’t have time to sit around and dream up conspiracy theories.  Thanks to thousands of scientists around the world, we now have not one but two vaccines to protect ourselves with!  This is nothing short of miraculous.    

 2020 has taught us more than we realize.  For one thing, we’re not in Kansas anymore.  Clicking our heels together will not return us to any former semblance of what life once was.  We are poised to make it infinitely better.  So let’s get ourselves and communities up and running.  What does that entail?  Vaccinations! 

As one who goes faint at the sight of a needle, I welcome this one.  I will take it as willingly as I popped that sugar cube in 1961 to eradicate polio.   It is my duty as a human to be as impervious to this invisible plague as possible.  It is our duty to fight it together.  I will take it in the arm like a big girl to protect my family and friends as well as yours.  Hopefully, you’ll return the favor.  

If not, you will not be part of the solution and you know what that means.  

Do we really need any more grandstanding?   We’ve already watched the screen fall from our very own Wizard of Oz, yet he continues to pull the strings of his dwindling, political puppetry.  Incredulously, his flock follows him over one cliff after another seemingly unscathed.  Perhaps it’s because their bodies lack backbones.  

So,
let’s stiffen our resolve.  Together, we can give America and the rest of the world a real shot in the arm.  Let the Emperor walk around with no clothes.  There isn’t much to see anyway.  Soon enough, no one will be interested in him at all.  We will all be too busy looking at each other– face to face.

DANCING GIRLS AND CLOWNS

Recently, I stumbled upon this lesser known Lautrec.  The poor girl looks like she has listened to one, too many pandemic horror stories and been subjected to one, too many whiny diatribes from You-Know-Who.  Turns out I wasn’t far off.  Toulouse painted this exhausted, brothel girl after one of her clients left.  He normally painted dancing girls and clowns.  Frankly, we could use more of both in our present climate.

The media makes me feel like that girl: worn out and used.  Once the bastion of fair and unbiased reporting, it has become a phony backdrop of half-truths and innuendo, propped up by financiers who pull the strings of pretty puppets and push private agendas.  I don’t want to see some poor, old man’s hair dye running down his face.  I’d rather watch paint dry.  Between the political rancor and various ‘movements’ all jockeying for position, it’s a wonder any of us are still standing let alone sane.

So, in this year of closing down and closing in, I refuse to close up. *  Since I must now provide my own levity, this has been my day so far:  

  1. I sat on my windowsill outside and made strange, bird noises in order to entice the birds to my feeder faster.  An elderly couple, who walk by often, suddenly stopped as I twittered on.  She raised a single, tentative finger as if to say, ‘Are you OK?’  I gave her a thumbs up.
  2. Upon entering my local coffee shop, I said, to no one in particular, “Isn’t this just wonderful?”  People stopped talking and looked up at me expectantly.  “We’re still ALIVE!” 
  3. I walked on the ‘wrong’ side of the bike path because I felt like it.  (Not to worry, there have been no bikes for weeks due to construction.)  However, a haughty woman fast-walked past me and barked, “You’re on the wrong side!”  “Oh, No!  What side is the RIGHT side?”  I asked her.  
  4. Turned on the news and hit MUTE.  While the anchor carried on, different heads popped up in separate squares onscreen. I watched their mouths.  It’s just like having my own flat-screen, goldfish bowl! 

Yes, there are horrors around every corner but there is also wonder and hope.  Honestly?  If I hear one more death prediction or political slander piece, I’m going Toulouse it.

* “The Man Closing Up,” by Donald Justice.

LIGHTEN UP!

Every few days I pop over to Trader Joe’s to pick up a few items.  They always have fun music pumping in the parking lot so I often sing and dance my way into the store.  Last week, I met a yogi swathed in tattoos who showed me his, “tree pose” while waiting in line.  By golly, he even looked like a tree!

I carry a small, cloth bag over my shoulder, which I wash often.  It stays on my body and doesn’t touch anything–not even a counter.  I don’t get a cart because it’s unnecessary nor do I get one of those red plastic things with the flimsy, wiry handles.  They’re awkward to carry, hard on my bad shoulder and difficult to disinfect.  Plus, as you’ll note above, they leave them sitting on the ground!! 

Last time I went, I put my three items IN the bag but at the counter they said I would have to hand-carry them from now on because they, ‘don’t know where my bag has been.’  What?  Like they know where their thousands of customers hands have been?  

So, last week, I hand-carried a milk, jar of pickles and carton of blueberries to the check stand.  After ringing them up the cashier asked, “Would you like paper or plastic?”  “Neither,” I replied, “If you just slide them down towards me, I’ll put them in my little bag here.”  She looked at me as if I had just asked her to carve up her firstborn for Thanksgiving.

“No,” she declared!  “You’ll have to go get a handcart and put them in.  Then carry them outside where you can repack them in your bag.”   “Are you insane?” I asked.  “In what universe does that make ANY intelligent sense?”  Yes, that was strong language but every now and then, one must take a stand against utter stupidity.  Reluctantly, she pushed my items towards me. 

Yesterday, I shopped at Sprouts.  As I left, the cashier said, “Thank you so much for bringing in your own bag!”  Indeed.  Any wonder we’re all confused? 

CHECK YOUR CONNECTION

 I may not be as smart as I once thought I was but I do feel more connected to the world.   Apparently, my childhood history books were filled with lies and Pluto is no longer a planet.  The things I once took for granted, like my transistor radio and the phone booth have vanished. When I was small, the thought of folks in far away countries was well, far away.  Not anymore.  It now feels like everyone is my neighbor. My little bubble has burst but my circle has opened wide thanks to technology.  

Last week, when that mother in China gave birth to a son and then threw him off a bridge, I could feel her pain.  There was even a picture of the underbrush where her baby landed safely and was rescued from.  Still, how did she get that desperate?  Surely she had neighbors.  What of the father?  Was she connected to no one who could have stopped her?  It is the same question I pondered when my own uncle put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  

Psychologists say it’s all in how we’re wired but I’m not so sure.  I think our connection with others is equally paramount.  Plenty of us have loose and crossed wires but we don’t toss the baby out with the bathwater.   We are anxious, depressed, manic, withdrawn and neurotic but we carry on.  Many of our most chaotic minds succeeded brilliantly and did not succumb to their afflictions:  Isaac Newton and Beethoven were bipolar.  Lincoln and Tolstoy suffered terrible depression.  Theodore Roosevelt and Harriet Tubman were epileptic.  Even Charles Darwin had severe mood swings that led to crying jags. 

The news today was about the mental health crisis the pandemic has wrought.  Suicide and murders are up significantly.  And yet?  Aren’t folks singing from their balconies and playing Ping-Pong between apartment buildings?  Aren’t they marching for justice and equality together despite the threat of a deadly disease?  We humans are a crazy concoction of conundrums but when we’re connected, we’re stronger.  

50 years from now people will likely wonder how we could have been so backward and misguided in 2020.  I know, because I feel that way about me 50 years ago. Still, as much as things change, much remains the same: a smile, the kindness of a stranger and a sunrise.  Those things are immutable and connect us. 

A BIRD IN THE HAND

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Recently a juvenile cowbird sat squawking on my windowsill with its mouth wide open. Suddenly, a smaller bird of a different species altogether flew in and stuck food in its’ mouth! I was shocked to watch this happen several more times. Clearly, the bird doing the feeding was not its’ ‘real’ mother. It was a black-headed gnatcatcher!! Apparently, the cowbird likes to drop its eggs into the nests of other birds and skip parenting altogether. The beauty is that those ‘other’ birds do their best to raise someone else’s fledgling.

It’s a great lesson for me in this time of protecting my neighbor by wearing a mask. Never have I been more acutely aware of our collective breaths! And I am not just referring to the pandemic but to all of those who’s lives intersect with our own. We inhale and exhale each other with a connectedness that stretches around the world. Just like those surrogate birds, we are responsible for lives that we don’t know, may not understand and may never even meet!

As a kid who was raised by my grandmother, I appreciate the value of being parented by someone who really wants you. It is the same kind of devotion that hopefully all adoptees receive. Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela and Babe Ruth were all adopted and clearly thrived. So have storks, monkeys and seals, often nurtured by parents other than their own. Giving life is one thing but nurturing it takes a different kind of devotion altogether.

This morning, a young woodpecker with a broken leg showed up on my doorstep. For a moment I wondered if I should just let nature take its course but the thought of a hawk swooping down to devour it made me cringe. Carefully, I scooped her into my hands and settled her on a large, comfy towel inside a box. She was terrified and so was I. I didn’t know how to care for her. After calling wildlife rescue, I was eventually able to leave her in far more capable hands than my own. Now if only we could leave the world that way for those who come after us.

ALL IN

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie (1867-1934)

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10 years ago, I was so terrified of dogs that I rarely visited friends who had them. Then this little one came home. Skylar weighed less than a pound. She’d been taken from her mother too soon so I had to feed her with a dropper around the clock. We had high hopes that she would be a companion for our children who begged us to get her. Within a few weeks, however, she became my sole responsibility.

Having never owned a dog, I didn’t relish the task. My ignorance was boundless but she was patient with me. The first time I took her for a walk, I put an old cat leash around her neck and almost strangled her. When I dropped a sock out of the laundry basket and she brought it back to me, I thought she had super powers. “Look what my puppy did!” I bragged on Facebook. “It’s called fetch,” my friends replied. Apparently every dog could do it.

Skylar watched my hair turn from brown to gray. She transformed from a rascal who chewed up shoes into an obedient pup who thought sunflower sprouts were a treat. She was there through high school then college graduations, followed us into three, different homes in three, different states and hovered at my side through two, major surgeries. She made me laugh over little things like the face she always made when I brushed her teeth. When I played the piano, she howled along as if we were in it together and we were. At night, if I tossed and turned then sighed, astonishingly, she did the same. Yes, she barked at most everything from falling leaves to FedEx trucks. However, after she alerted me to a midnight prowler, I came to respect her every growl.

I often marvel how I ever managed to live so long before finding such a grand companion. Few humans are as unabashed in both their affections and distresses. Skylar was ALL IN for everything and everyone was a potential friend. For several thousand days, I have held her close against my heart and then, last week, as she took her final breath. The house is pin drop quiet now. Our long running conversation has ended but I will never forget how wonderful it was to have.

 

 

 

100 STEPS

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Since lockdown started, I’ve been walking a three-mile loop in my neighborhood. In the middle of the walk, there’s a very, steep hill. My iphone says it’s 5 stories high but it feels more like 10. The first time I tackled it, the temperature was 90 something, my heart was pounding and my legs felt weak. I thought I’d never get to the top and kept looking up to see how much further I had to go. The second time, I tried not to look up but curiosity got the better of me and every step became agony. The third time, I forced myself to look down and counted each step instead. It came to exactly 100 left-right steps! Not looking ahead and just focusing on my feet made the ascent much easier. Now that hill doesn’t seem so steep anymore.

I’m using this same strategy for our present pandemic. I say ‘present’ because this, too, will pass. Wjust don’t know when that will be or what life will look like when it does. Living in this masked and distanced universe is enough to send anyone over the edge. A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year. Nearly half of Americans recently polled say they are experiencing mental health issues.

There is a bell curve to anxiety. At the top of it, we are motivated, focused and energized. We wash our hands, wear our masks and keep a proper distance from others. On the right-hand tail of the curve, however, we become overwhelmed and paranoid which actually weakens our immune system. We obsess over cleanliness, are terrified to go out in public and fill our heads with negative news and grim statistics. Look around. If someone is driving all alone wearing a mask, the protection they need is likely from themselves.

Eckhart Tolle encourages us to appreciate the, “power of now.” The Bible cautions, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.” So, here is to realizing that the constraints we find ourselves in will eventually lead to something better. As Victor Hugo wrote over 100 years ago, “The pupil dilates in darkness and in the end finds light, just as the soul dilates in misfortune and in the end finds God.” It is only a few steps away. Count them with me.