Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name

My father called her Big Stuff.
I was Little Stuff.
Sometimes he called her Tomato Face.
In the morning, when into the kitchen she'd come, flopping along in her Daniel Green slippers and zipper-front robe looking for her coffee in the electric percolator, Dad would sing,
Here she comes, Miss America.
Jack called her Irish.
To her friends, she was Els.
To her nephews she was Aunt Elsie.
In Germany she was Frau Elsie who was always schteaming!
Steve called her The Little White Haired Lady and Little Mommy.
Peggy invoked her given name, Elsie Vera.
Aliases included
Marguerite Montmarenzie.
and once, when she decided to be unfaithful to her long time hair dresser, Del at House Beautiful by going to Lucky Lady Beauty Salon, she went by her maiden name, Elsie Reid so he wouldn't find out.
To the salesmen at the office and tellers at the bank, she was Mrs. Luskey.
(And probably some other names that will go unmentioned.)
To her grandchildren, she was Gaga.
To me she was

In that order.
Born the last rose of summer, Mother died on the first day of spring.
Gentle images for this fierce Virgo.
a sleeping lioness
Elise lives
ferocious as ever
in the fire of my being.
There when I need her.
As always.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Eyes Wide Shut

The news is full of all commentators asking the same question over and over again. How could they not have known that Osama Bin Laden was living in that walled compound right in the midst of the town with neighbors all around him?

Listening to them, I am reminded of a trip my family took to Munich, Germany in 1983.

We traveled to Dachau, the concentration camp approximately twenty minutes outside of Munich where over 3000 Jews died. While Dachau was not an "extermination camp," it was a walled, fenced, fortress that existed between 1933 and 1945 where countless atrocities, hunger, illness, and deaths resulted due to the SS doctors' horrifying experiments on its prisoners.

I remember asking the same question.

How could they not have known?

The question allows for the benefit of doubt. Maybe they really didn't know....but how could they have not?

The naivete of the question is what hits me now. Perhaps it is that I've lived long enough to have become a tad cynical.
Perhaps it is that I understand human nature better now than I did at twenty-four.

The answer seems perfectly obvious to me.

Of course they knew.

Fear makes people do a lot of things.
I have never had to face a fear so great as retaliation by an evil government like the Nazi regime or of a terrorist organization like al Qaeda.
The courage it would take to speak up against atrocities like the Holocaust happening right in your back yard is something I can only pray I could muster.
The actions of the Nazis were legal in Germany. Hitler made sure of it. By going up against the government, a person risked everything. Would I have that kind of courage?

In our country, we go about our daily lives with a general sense of safety, security, and belief that our government, while not perfect, is just. Our homes are sanctuaries. While we are certainly grappling with a lot of issues about privacy in the age of the internet, there still is a sense that we are free to think, say, write, and act as we choose regardless of our race, religion, or culture without fear that we will be hauled off to a the ovens or be beheaded. These principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are subconsciously operating in us all the time. Because they have not been threatened.

So there sat Osama Bin Laden in a mansion in Pakistan. And nobody said anything. Eyes wide shut, someone said. Yes. I believe that is true. I've seen people look the other way on much smaller issues than whether to turn in public enemy # 1 - the most wanted, infamous terrorist on the planet.

Think about it. What have you chosen not to get mixed up in?
When have you decided to look the other way. Not get involved. Remain silent.
It bears some consideration.

A theology teacher I once had talked about how evil enters when there is an opening - a weakness - we allow evil to "happen."
The courage to stand up to evil is a choice.

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Elie Wiesel

Monday, May 2, 2011

Wise Words

Good thoughts from Darcy Rice's inspiring blog, THOUGHTS FOR THE TEACHING ARTIST
New needs need new techniques. And the modern artists have found new ways and new means of making their statements... the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture.
~Jackson Pollock

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Breath Taking Lesson

I felt like what I'd written my brother had felt like that morning it had taken me four hours to get him out of his condo to take him to the doctor. Step. Stop. Rest. Like the oxygen had been vacuumed out of me. I slumped against the tile in the shower. Sheer will power had gotten me there from my bed. I'd pulled myself up knowing something was wrong. When one's body wants attention, it has plenty of ways of demanding it. Not being able to breathe is a pretty clear message. I had to get to the doctor.
Chills, aches, and a rumbling cough that came from deep within the cavern of my body told me this was not just a cold. I wondered if I had Swine flu. I figured bronchitis. I couldn't drive.
My house keeper, Silvia, was busily mopping the floor when a stood at the top of my stairs and choked out her name. "Silvia, can you please drive me to the doctor?"
It is a bit of blur to me now. She did drive me. Foggily, I presented my medical card and driver's license at the counter. When they took me back to the examining room, I couldn't sit up. I lay on the metal table, lethargic, without an ounce of energy, my head resting on a pillow covered in scratchy paper.
A chest xray confirmed, bacterial pneumonia.
"Wow," I thought. "Wow."
No wonder I felt like I remember my brother feeling before being admitted to the hospital for breathing treatments. He had pneumonia.
My oxygen level was low. The prescriptions kept coming. Inhaler. Antibiotics. Ibuprofin. Then the zinger. Off work for a week.
A week off work??? It's not possible. I teach five classes. My freshmen are getting ready to start their final scenes. My sophomores are getting ready to perform scenes from The Crucible. My seniors are preparing Blithe Spirit. How could I possibly miss a week of school?
She hands me a note. "Doctor's orders."
"Wow," I thought. "Wow."

I guess I over did it.
I guess I ignored the signs of fatigue.
I guess I still haven't learned that lesson. You know the one. Balance.
Just ask my husband. He's had to live with me for twenty -nine years as of today, our anniversary.
He says that my overly developed sense of responsibility, conscientiousness, and work ethic is in my DNA.

I know better.
It was modeled for me. Expected of me. Forced upon me. Sung to me. In many cases in my life, I had no choice. This is learned behavior. I've had lots of practice.

You see, I was born out of grief – a replacement for two brothers – one dead. The other gay. Both secrets. I filled the void . Where ever there was a void, I filled it. I was the pleaser. The fixer. My father used to sing this little rhyme to me, “Always do a little more than what people expect you to do. Always do a little more and you’ll be happy too.”
He forgot to tell me when more was enough.
What could have been enough to replace a buried child, save a marriage, a family business, and a brother with AIDS?
When I was growing up, my parents fought.
After one terrificly ugly fight they told me that I was the reason they stayed married.
That's a lot of power for a child to wield.
And a lot of responsibility.

I remember several years ago, when I was getting my Masters, the question was posed, "What lie have you have believed about yourself that has impacted the choices you have made?"

I remember the question piercing me. Its ramifications far reaching. It was a simple lie.
It's my responsibility.
If it is my responsibility, then, no one else can do it.
Always do a little more than what people expect you to do. Dangerous words.

I accused my brother of denial when he had AIDS. I've written volumes on how denial can kill.
There are none so blind as those who will not see.

I must face my own denial.

I'm not drowning, I'm swimming.

I must learn when enough is enough.

The reckoning or the wrecked.

My choice.

Stephen Sondheim wrote,
"Careful the things you say. Children will listen. Careful the path you take. Children will see and learn. Children will look to you for which way to turn to learn what to be. Careful before you say, listen to me. Children will listen."

Wise words for teachers.
And a lot of responsibility.