MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE

ON THE STREETS OF WAIKIKI

Homeless people have been around since I was a young girl in the 60’s wandering the streets of New York City.  Back then, they were few and far between, sitting quietly beside a sign that read, “Spare change?”  Now, they are up front and very center across America. On any given night, half a million people are laying their heads on the ground, exposed to the elements, disease, filth and predators. Statistics say it’s due to unemployment, unaffordable housing, drug use and mental health issues.  And while those things do affect the numbers, there is something deeper at work:  they have lost connection with others.  Sometimes that connection is lost by accident.  Other times it is a purposeful break due to violence, trauma, or family alienation which now affects 27% of us.  

13 years ago, a Stanford graduate fell off the grid.  His concerned classmates, after a long, circuitous hunt, found him alive and sort of well living on the streets of New Orleans.  That story had a happy ending.  Most don’t but often it’s not for lack of trying.  My own mother spent her later years walking the streets of Long Island pushing a shopping cart.  At night, she slept in a baseball dugout.  Despite getting her into housing, she always bolted claiming that she needed, “fresh air and freedom,” both of which came at a price.

Homelessness is a broken connection.  It cannot be simply fixed by relocation, housing or even treatment.  There is no one size fits all when you are talking about people.  If you want to repair a broken circuit, you first have to turn off the power to it, troubleshoot which breaker has malfunctioned, replace and rewire it.  On a plastic panel, it’s a simple process.  In a human being, the breakers are endless and finding the right one to re-wire is often a crapshoot.  This crisis across America will take a multiplicity of interventions connecting together at the same time.   

I’ve spent the last few weeks in Hawaii.  It is not the paradise I remember from 25 years ago.  Now, I cannot go a single block without encountering a homeless person.  I often take the bus but have yet to be able to sit at the stop, since there is usually someone sleeping on the bench.  Once, I was chased into the street by a man who threw his socks at me because I didn’t have a light for his cigarette.  But I’ve noticed something:  The police are tolerant and the locals leave food and coffee by their camp sites.  Yesterday, a blanket and a cooler filled with water and bananas were left on a park bench.  This morning, I added my own pair of worn shoes.  As Iyanla Vanzant so poignantly said, “You have to meet people where they are and sometimes you have to leave them there.”      

LIGHTEN UP

Apparently, this is NOT a ballet barre.

There is perhaps no more mournful place in American than the local gym.  Where else can you see a sea of grimacing, grunting faces in various heave-ho positions?  It could be all the mirrors.  I’d be depressed if I stared at nothing but myself, too.  When folks aren’t staring at their anatomy they are deeply involved with their cell phones.  Deeply.  From my observations, the average gym goer spends more time looking at their phone than actually working out.

If you go to the gym, do NOT attempt to converse with anyone, particularly those with ear buds.  They do NOT want to be disturbed from their very, serious business.  Also, do NOT attempt to ‘work in’ with those who have laid sweaty bandanas across the equipment or placed a water bottle at the base.  They plan to occupy that territory for as long as it takes them to do 10 reps, then pause for 5 minutes to look at their phone, do 10 more reps, etc.  They are not in a hurry to work out.  They are, in fact, camping out.  This morning, a man sat on the same piece of equipment while I swam a half-mile.  After I showered and changed, he was still sitting there!

I dare you to go into a gym without your phone and ear buds.  You will get more done in half the time.  You’re also more likely to start up a conversation and burn social calories.  (Yeah, that’s a thing.)  I also dare you to ride a bike without staring at the TV.  Talk about feeling the road.  Distractions are just that.  They keep you from doing the work.  If you don’t do the work you won’t get results.  If you want results, stay out of the gym.  

If you do go, here are some ways to make it fun:

Ask the guy wielding two, heavy ropes if you can, “Double Dutch,” with him.
Ask the 6′ 4″ kid shooting hoops if he’ll take your picture. Explain you’re writing a ‘style’ piece for the NBA.
Pretend to get stuck and ask someone to extricate you from the machine.

But WHATEVER you do make it fun. Life is too short to take yourself that seriously.

USE YOUR WORDS!

OMG!  Hasn’t life been SO much simpler since we reduced words to three letters?  I checked the AQI this morning and decided not to go outside.  Since I don’t take PED’s, I had to do something so headed to the GYM.  (My acronym for Get Yourself Moving)

FYI, more people stare at their phones there than exercise.  So, while they’re texting LOL’s to their BFF’s, I wait and fume.  Finally I say, “Hey.  I’m getting OBM.  Can I work in with you before I GOP?”  A guy wearing a JDI shirt is sprawled in the middle of the mat doing nothing.  I ask if he would mind moving over.  He doesn’t budge.  RUS?  I say, “Don’t wear a JDI shirt if you’re not gonna DI.” 

I head to my car and pass a woman and her mom having coffee at an outside table.  The mom stares at her phone and says, “Honey, what does EMF mean?”  (Had she not told her, I’d have had to look it up). TMI? In the car, I turn the radio on.  WTF is up with all the commercials?  If you have a UTI, STD, PTSD, BPD, ED or OCD, you’re in luck.  There’s a drug for you.  If you just wanna listen to music, however, you’re SOL!   

Back in the day, cops put out APB’s if you were wanted. You were DOA at the morgue and SOS meant ‘Help!’  Now?  We’re living in a 3-letter world.  OIC.  Don’t believe me?  Consider this:  Ariana Grande’s last song was ‘POV’ and 60 Minutes just did a whole segment on NFT’s.  

FTR, I had lunch today with an older friend who doesn’t own a computer or cell phone.  As she struggled to recall where the Red Sea was, I opened my phone.

“Hey Siri?”  I ask.  “Where is the Red Sea?” 

“It is an inlet of the Indian Ocean between Africa and Asia.”

“Isn’t that cool?” I brag.  She looks askance.

“I could’ve looked it up.  Imagine all the other things I might have noticed along the way.”

Branson and Bezos just zoomed into space; a zillion dollars for 10 minutes of free fall but what did they see ‘along the way?’ Do we really need to spend that kind of money to “realize just how small we are and how fragile Earth is?”  DTS. We’re on the expressway of knowledge but everything is flying by.  Nothing is sticking.  Initialism has become our self expression.

Recently, I helped look after the adorable fellows pictured above.  Oh, how I loved listening to them use their words!  Every syllable was a symphony to my ears.  When the littlest dropped his toy and I said, “Uh, Oh.” He replied: “It happens.” Honestly?  Isn’t life short enough without shortening it even more?  IDK.  I’m thinking of adding all the letters back in. It might just prolong my life.

CHEAT SHEET FOR THE CHALLENGED

OMG: Oh My God

AQI: Air Quality Index

PED: Performance Enhancing Drugs

FYI: For Your Information

LOL: Laugh Out Loud

BFF: Best Friends Forever

OBM: Older By the Minute

GOP: Go Out to Pasture

JDI: Just Do It

RUS: Are You Serious

EMF: Enjoy Mother F…..

TMI: Too Much Information

SOL: S… Out of Luck

FTR: For The Record

OIC: Oh I See

POV: Point Of View

NFT: Non Fungible Tokens

DTS: Don’t Think So

IDK: I Don’t Know

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!”           

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.

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? 

A BIRD IN THE HAND

IMG_1383

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)

sky n football

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.