Sunday, September 27, 2009


I've just returned from a Kairos retreat with a group of forty-seven students. Kairos means "in God's time." It is the opposite of Chronos which refers to sequential time. Surrendering to a belief that there is such a thing as God's time creates a completely different perspective on one's life.

Perspective is something that cannot be hurried. One simply cannot gain perspective without time. It is one of the gifts of a long life. Perspective helps us to make sense of the events in our lives. It helps us to derive meaning, to connect the dots, to see the continuum.

Perspective gives us a lens through which to take stock of the choices in our lives. Choices that define who we are and what matters to us. Choices that we make out of opportunity, or the lack there of. Choices made out of pain, fear, obedience, self preservation or self loathing. Choices made from a desire for acceptance, a yearning for change or a need for control.

There are consequences for every choice we make. It is perspective that allows us to reconcile ourselves with the consequences. Perspective gives us clarity.

It is clarity I gained this week. Clarity allows for forgiveness, understanding, and purpose.

One of the ways we gain clarity is through the telling of our story. Our shared stories help us to see that we are not alone. That our pain, though unique to our particular journey, is not unique. It is part of the experience of being human.
And when we share our stories, we help others to gain perspective.

A perspective that there is a purpose to every single thing that occurs in our messy, complicated, complex, confusing lives. Everything. As Rilke says,
"Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one's own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist:in understanding as in creating. In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn't matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn't force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernably silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything."

Jean Pierre Medaille, SJ, wrote in his Maxims of Perfection in 1657
"Never go ahead of grace
through imprudent eagerness
but await its moment in peace
and when it comes to you,
follow it with great gentleness and courage.
Once you have obeyed,
take care
lest complacency
rob you of the fruit of your obedience."

In order to live like this, we have to trust that as the medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich says,
"All will be well. All will be well. All manner of things will be well."

Trust. Even if we don't live to see the purpose in the event. Even if we don't gain perspective. In God's time, it all has meaning.
I am grateful to have been reminded of this. I feel reconnected with a renewed sense of purpose. Because of the clarity I have gained, I can embrace the "is-ness" of my life. I trust in Kairos.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Mother's House Coat

I dreamed last night that I was wearing my mother's house coat. White with little flowers of yellow, red and blue printed all over it. Snaps down the front. Mother wore a house coat like that every afternoon for as long as I can remember. Not a great fashion statement, perhaps, but it was what she put on after work to relax.

I can see my mother, lying on the couch in the living room. Every afternoon she took a little nap for as long as I can remember. Her feet were crippled with arthritis. Amazingly twisted toes that once were straight. She had taken pride in her spike heels once upon a time. And the "Reid" legs. Mother's calves were nicely shaped and she gloried in them. Dancing with my father in her high heels, he would often say that it was how she kicked her foot up when she danced that had caught his eye at the Eagle Dance Hall in Cincinnati. He said he knew then that he was going to marry that girl.

It was an indignation to my mother when she had to start wearing practical shoes - a progression from pumps to loafers to something akin to a nurse's shoe.
But on the couch, she was barefoot and her gnarled toes would twitch a little. I marveled how she squeezed them into a shoe at all.

Mother would lie flat on her back, her legs, crossed at the ankle, her hand usually up at her neck sort of playing with the loose skin that fell into wrinkles beneath her chin. Her face looked as if she was thinking or dreaming - relaxed and peaceful. "I'm just going to close my eyes for a few minutes," she would say.

She would work in the yard. Clipping her camellia bushes, skimming the swimming pool, and washing down the patio. Mother was always busy with chores. Except in those moments when she would close her eyes for a few minutes.

Mother was a fastidious house keeper. When I was growing up, I would no sooner get out of bed in the morning, when she would have the bed all made up. She took pride in how she made a bed. Never did she fold the top of the bedspread down and set the pillows on top of it. She would pull the bedspread up over the pillows and then with a karate chop movement create a straight crease. I never tried to flip a quarter on the bed, but if I had, I'm certain it would have passed the military standard for bed-making. Yes, Mother made my bed. She did my laundry. She cooked me breakfast every morning and we sat down to a hot dinner every night. An "Irish washer woman" she would sometimes call herself. The washing machine seemed always to be going. Her kitchen tile gleamed a shiny yellow. She loved a broom and dust pan and used them daily on the kitchen floor.

I knew she was slipping when the kitchen began to look grimy. It got sticky actually. And the dirt grew over an inch thick in the louvers of the service porch door. She still managed to do the laundry but making her king size bed was a chore. Sometimes there was no crease under the pillows at all.
The phone calls in the early morning became more frequent. Panic in her voice, she would ask, "What do I do now?" And I would give her instructions about her next step. Eventually the phone calls stopped. She couldn't remember how to use the phone. And so it went.

But Mother wore a house coat until the end. She took her last breath in one that was lavender with small flowers printed on it. My sorority sister, Camie Lee had bought it for her at Mervyns hours before. We had run out of clean clothes.

I'd not done the laundry.

She was cremated in it. There seemed no reason to change her outfit for the occasion.
She lay on her back, relaxed, peaceful.
Her hands crossed on her chest where I placed a camellia.
Her work was done.
No more chores.
Now she could once again kick her heel up while dancing in heaven with my father.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Once Upon a Time

In The Spirituality of Imperfection Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham make a compelling argument for the power of storytelling.

"What can we do in order to be? Listen! Listen to the stories! For what stories do, above all else, is hold up a mirror so that we can see ourselves. Stories are mirrors of human be-ing, reflecting back our very essences. In a story we come to know precisely the both/and, mixed-up-ed-ness of our very being. In the mirror of another's story, we can discover our tragegy and our comedy - and therefore our very human-ness."

This is precisely why being a part of a writer's group is such a powerful experience. The generosity of spirit within the trusted circle allows each person to hold a mirror up for one another. We find our own stories because of another's. And in finding our story, we find ourselves. Where we came from. What influenced us. What changed us. We no longer hide from ourselves, but rather, stare ourselves in the face - and see ourselves for the first time.

Our stories reveal truths that can only be discovered through their telling.
No small talk here.
The writer's group is a sacred trust.
At times, a container for the pain.
At times, a vessel from which the courage pours.

It's good to be back.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Memoir Workshop

The Art of Remembering Memoir Workshop will resume again on Tuesdays beginning September 29th. This workshop is for all levels of writers interested in getting in touch with their story. Offered through the North Orange County Community College District Older Adult Program free of charge. Bring a notebook and pen. Remember, your life is your journey, your journey is your story, your story is your legacy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Old Drama Teachers Never Die

Old drama teachers never die. They live on in the memories of their students. Every role. Every show. Every tech. Today I attended the memorial service for John Blankenchip at USC. As I sat in the Bing Theatre, I might just as well have been that nineteen year old girl who sang "If I Loved You" from Carousel. The stage was smaller than I remembered....but I remembered how big it felt when I stood on it. I remembered it all. I remembered the auditions. I remembered the rehearsals. And most of all, I remembered John. Described today as a titan of theatre, I realized how lucky I was. Lucky to have been in the theatre program at USC with John. Luckier to have spent a summer in Edinburgh, Scotland for the Fringe Festival in 1979 with John. But luckiest to have chosen the path of the drama teacher like John. Correction. Lucky that the path of the drama teacher chose me. But I don't believe it was an accident. As I sat in the Bing today, I identified with John as a fellow teacher and director. And I wondered how much his influence on me subconsciously affected my choices. Today, someone said that John " forced you to do things you never thought you could do. " I believe this was true. Especially in Edinburgh where we produced thirteen shows in rep over three weeks. Someone said, "if you survived Edinburgh, you could survive anything." I wondered today, how much that apprenticeship gave me the confidence to start Tri-School Theatre. Today I sat in the Bing Theatre grateful. Grateful for the opportunities John gave me. Grateful for my parents who sent me to USC. And grateful that I used my theatre education to teach. John's legacy indeed lives through his students. John lives in me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


The tumor was a three plus. Her cancer stage two. Eighteen weeks of chemo. She will lose her hair. That hair. That thick hair. The hair I used to brush when I was a little girl. That hair that was tied in a pony tail during the "Love Story" stage. She resembled Ali MacGraw. That hair that she pulled back during the scarf and big earring stage. That was when I would babysit and would read her MS. Magazines and talk about politics, spirituality, and the meaning of life. I think I was about twelve. Always a good listener, she was my refuge, my sanctuary, and my trusted confidante through every stage of life.

Now, this is her cancer stage. At sixty-seven, she is the same age her mother was during her cancer stage.
She has lost her breast and now will lose her hair and I keep shaking my head saying, "I can't believe this."

I guess I am in the denial stage.

I look back over our history BC. Now, there will always be a before. Funny how before always looks so much better when there is an after. That time when we moved through life unsuspecting. Unaware of what lay ahead. As soon as there is a before, we are forced to look back to see before through the lens of after.

I look back at a lifetime of everything with her and don't want it to be after. I want it to be before. But it isn't.
It's now. And she will lose her hair.
And I must accept it.
A new stage.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Thirtysomething Revisited

In 1987, I sat on my bed nursing my baby son while I watching a new television show called Thirtysomething. I was not yet there but my life was. I had been out of college for six years, married for five. We had two children and lived in a broken down, charming old house on Pine Street. My husband was going to grad school at night, our family business was on the skids, and we were close to broke. Most of our friends from college were married but had not yet begun having children. Remember, this was the eighties. The era of "Yuppies", " Dinks" and Baby on Board signs. While my friends traveled the globe and bought expensive new houses, I was feeling isolated, struggling to forge my identity and to keep the romance alive. My life freakishly mirrored the plot lines of Thirtysomething . So much so, that at times I thought to myself, "this isn't entertainment - this is my life." It was a hard show to watch. On the one hand, I was comforted by the struggles of the characters of Hope, Michael, Elliot and Nancy as they, too, wrestled with the same issues that faced me every day. On the other hand, they depressed me. It was too real. Too close. Too right on. The show lasted four seasons and tracked the demise of Elliot and Michael's advertising business at the very same time that we lost ours. It was, life imitating art imitating life - it blew my mind. Never had a television show entered my very psyche. Torturous as it was at times, when Thirtysomething went off the air in 1991 I missed it and I missed the characters as if they had actually been my friends.

Last weekend, my husband, to whom I have now been married twenty-seven years, came home and told me to close my eyes and to hold out my hands. When I opened my eyes, I found myself looking at the newly released DVD set of the first season of Thirtysomething. Instantly, I began to cry. There were the faces of my long-lost friends. I looked at my husband and it was as if he had found a keepsake, a treasure from our past - that had been locked away deep in my memory. I was ecstatic. And I was terrified. It was then I realized that this television show that had paralleled our lives nearly twenty years ago had the potential to unleash painful memories that I had either long since left behind or spent hours processing in therapy. But my curiosity about how the show would hold up by today's standards and shear nostalgia won out. With trepidation, I began to watch.

From the first twangs of the theme song, I was instantly transported back in time. Like watching an old home movie, I found myself pointing out the Fisher Price high chair, the Volvo wagon, the mobile over the crib, the playpen, the swing, and the Little People farm house- all of which we had. Sesame Street, Mister Rogers Neighborhood and Raffi played in the background. I groaned over the home repairs, the shoulder pads,and the big hair. At Elliot and Michael's office I laughed at seeing the IBM Selectric typewriter and the green bar computer printouts from some main frame computer the size of my living room- remnants from long before the days of cell phones, laptops, Google and Facebook. That was the fun part.

Then I began to moan and wince at some of the self-indulgent, seemingly trivial concerns that plagued these young marrieds. Conflicts that seemed utterly inconsequential dominated their day to day lives. I wanted to slap the character of Hope for being so rude and moody to her mother. And I recognized in that moment, that over twenty years had passed since those days of nursing my baby son. I am closer in age to Hope's mother than I am to Hope. And while the issues I faced in my early married life were challenging, at times devastating, and often overwhelming, unlike the characters in Thirtysomething, I now have the benefit of both hindsight and perspective. The show is still as true as it was twenty years ago. A brilliant script - painfully honest and full of genuine angst. It wasn't easy to watch back then and it's still not. The difference is, I am now fiftysomething.

There is a poignancy to revisiting this chapter in my life. But it is a chapter that feels like a distant memory. The show did mirror my life back then. But it doesn't now. Time does indeed march on. My son is twenty-two years old and will graduate from college this June. My daughter is nearly twenty-five, the age I was when she was born. No doubt, they will have their own thirtysomething journey. And some day, they too will look back and sigh.

In one particularly moving scene, the cast is gathered in Hope and Michael's living room and in the background, Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" is playing - eerily echoing the ache that filled my heart as I watched the youthful moment unfolding before me.

"And the seasons, they go 'round and 'round. And the painted ponies go up and down. We're captive on a carousel of time. We can't return, we can only look behind from where we came and go 'round and 'round and 'round in the circle game."

And so it goes.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Remembering Ronnie

"Be Bold. Be Courageous. Serve Others." Ronnie wrote those words. I remember telling him, "those should be on a poster!" And what did Ronnie do? He made me a poster with those words on it. This is just one of his legacies. Ronnie faced numerous health challenges, but they never deterred him from persevering. Sometimes, he would arrive to class with an oxygen tank. He walked slowly but with a determination unmatched by most. As his health deteriorated, he sometimes used a motorized cart to get to and from the car. Whenever he could, Ronnie came to class despite the obstacles. He was forthright, honest, opinionated, direct. In one of his last outspoken moments in class, Ronnie railed against his church spending money on a bell tower. The money, he said, could have been used for more important things. His sense of social justice and care for those in need was evident in the things he wrote about.

Breath is life. For as long as I knew Ronnie, he was running out of both. But he never wasted either. He wrote stories about his life, his recovery, his camping trips, his family, his beliefs, and his struggles. Writing is hard work. Ronnie worked hard at it.
It was a labor of love.
Our life is our journey. Our journey is our story. Our story is our legacy.
There will be an empty chair at our table - but Ronnie's legacy and indomitable spirit will continue to inspire.
Be Bold. Be Courageous. Serve Others.
Like Ronnie.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mi Ma and Me

The date, stamped on the scalloped edge of the black and white photograph, says April 59. I am less than three months old. The woman holding me up to the camera is my grandmother, known as Mi Ma. She has a slight smile on her face as she looks down at me in her arms. She is somewhat familiar. I recognize the ears - large. I inherited them. She wears round, button, earrings. The kind my mother used to wear. I stare into the camera. I am bald. My eyes are wide open. My lips are pursed. We are in front of a mantel. There is an Easter basket, a bunny, and a card behind us. The picture might just as well be of strangers. I will never know her.

I was born to my mother and father out of grief. My brother, Jamie, had died at age three of a tonsillectomy in November of 1956. I was born two and a half years later when my parents were forty-two. Mi Ma was in her mid-seventies. Over seventy years between us that day in April 59.

As I look at the photograph, I feel an ache. But it is not for the grandmother I never knew. I ache for my mother. I miss her. And now as I look at the photo, I realize I will never know my grandmother because whatever I might have known, died with my mother. I can't ask her anymore questions like whose mantel are we standing in front of and is the Easter basket mine? I wonder who took the picture. Probably my father. He took most of the pictures in our family.

Yesterday would have been his ninety-third birthday. I can't imagine him old. He died at sixty-four jogging to the office. My children will never find a photograph of him holding them. They never knew him.
Nor did I know my grandfathers. My mother's father died in the influenza of 1918. I don't know what year my father's father died. There are no pictures of me with them, either.

I have no sense of what it feels like to have been grand parented. The black and white photograph is as close as I'll get. On the back, written in slightly smudged, red ink, in my mother's perfect palmer-method handwriting is, "Amy and Mi Ma 2 1/2 mos." Maybe that's why I can't stop looking at the photograph. It is the caption on the back that says it all. In a moment in time, I did have a grandmother. And she held me in her arms. And it mattered to my mother.