Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spread Good

I am blessed in innumerable ways, which of course makes me want to list them: a loving husband, children, and extended family; the most caring, funny, and "wicked smart" friends; a quaint, quirkly old home; a job working in a community that honors my work; and a church where I go and laugh and cry every single time I walk in the door.

Growing up, I had a different experience at church. I loved my grandparents with all my heart and going to church was a way to please them. Still, the church services were stern and filled with references to scripture that illuminated all the different ways one was a sinner. I don't remember laughing, ever and if I shed tears, it was because I realized I was going straight to hell. There were powerful lessons of community but they came at a cost.

Here is what happened at my church today:

Reverend Judith singled me out and asked me how my health was doing and more importantly, how I was doing. "I'm fine, I'm fine...everything is going to be fine". She trained her steel blue eyes on me and said "You call me and let's set up a time to talk." Reverend Judith then called all the children to the front of the church and read them the parable of the 6 blind men and the elephant. After the children left, she preached a beautiful sermon entitled "What is Religion" and tied it in to the parable. The choir sang beautifully, and I was (once again) in tears. Guess what? That was all a prelude to this..................

Mr. and Ms. B stood up and addressed the congregation. Mr. B talked about how they had been impressed with a professional football player with the Detroit Lions. That football player had called together 40 of his friends at the end of the season and given each of them 55.00 dollars. The money was to be used to "spread good", no questions asked. He picked that amount because it was the number on his jersey. Mr. B then turned to Ms. B and with tears in his eyes told her that she was the light of his life, his moral compass, the reason his children were the fine individuals they were today.....and to honor their 55 years together, they were both going to stand in the back of the church and give each person an envelope with 55 dollars. Our simple instructions were to "spread good."

I am now contemplating the most serious decision I have ever faced with 55 dollars. I want to honor their trust, honor my beautiful, beautiful church, and say for the record that I think religion is about spreading good. I am so very lucky to have such people showing me how to do it. I will never forget today, in this life or the next.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mass General Marathon

Wednesday's marathon day at Mass General was not filled with good news so I'm going to gloss over the sticky bits: new vein problem (May-Thurner Syndrome) =new vein specialist; complicated neurological findings=new vascular an aside, when asked to complete a floor plan of my house and left out all doors, windows and connecting hallways, the neurologist was at a loss for words. I am a broad strokes kind of gal. The hematologist who I disparaged in a previous post and then deleted the post was my favorite. I think he is Russian but he reminds me of what studying under a Viennese psychoanalyst must have been like for analysands...scary but a significant pay-off in the end. There are lessons to be learned here, I'm sure of it. Mostly, you just have to keep at it. When the neurologist you have been referred to doesn't have an appointment until November, you have to call his office every week and see if there have been any cancellations. You absolutely have to be on your best behavior with the secretaries, they run the show. You have to push your human-ness so the docs can see past the research and begin to get some sense of who you are...very much part of treatment I think.

Significant moment: While a young man was drawing my blood, he was showing me what went amiss at the recent lethal injection in the Midwest...the one that took two hours. He was quite passionate that he would not have made the same mistake. I was torn between applauding his acumen and judging his eagerness to show off his skills at care taking by taking part in an execution. Such is the complexity of the human spirit.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Notes from the Pew

As a Unitarian Universalist Buddhist with a UU Buddhist minister, you would think that I would not have the super-ego voice in my head that tells me skipping church is a sin. You would not have gone to church with my grandmother during the formative years. It is her voice in my head I had a dialogue with this morning:

"Gran-Gran, soccer season has started and Saturdays are completely booked...not only that, but Brimfield is in town and Sunday is the only day I can go...I need to get special presents for people, like the ones you used to make...I need to go. I think I can even talk my non-church going husband to bring the kids, which is really the important part.

"KK, you know the right thing to do."

"He needs to be part of their spiritual upbringing, it is not going to kill him to take them without me."

"So you go to church for the sake of your children's spiritual needs?"

"No, but now that I'm back at work and school has started, it is all about balancing everyone's needs"

"KK, you know the right thing to do."

Although soft, I couldn't shake the sound of it, the steel tone of it, the memory of every Sunday, Sunday evening and Wednesdays (we sinned more in Texas so we had to go to church a lot), of youth ministry, of puppet ministry, of being washed in the blood of the lamb (I think I'm going to teach my UU colleagues that song).

I went with my family to church this morning (thank you love for coming with us), and Reverend Judith read this poem by Langston Hughes:

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Thank you Reverend Judith, and thank you Gran-gran, for that soft voice in my head that asks me to remember.

Friday, September 11, 2009

RIP Small Fry

My children became so desperate for a pet, any kind of pet, that they started naming the ants in the driveway. They created habitats for them, named them, and brought them indoors. Then, somehow the ants left their tiny little habitats and wandered into my bathtub. It ended poorly which is foreshadowing that I did not pay attention to.

I have always been a cat person. Cats remind me of English royalty who have descended into your home to mingle with the common folk. They don’t need much and don’t care for it when you need something from them. This seems like a suitable arrangement. Also, when cats get out of control or you move across the country, you can leave them with your cat-loving mom. I had a dog as a child but sadly, he bit a neighbor’s ear and it ended poorly.

So we have been pondering what kind of pet to get our kids. Luke wanted a turtle but one hears the turtle poop horror stories and apparently they live to be 75. I had visions of me and the turtle in our dotage, both with poop issues.

That leaves the noble fish and by process of elimination, this is the pet we chose. One week-end we bought the aquarium, the aquarium stand, the gravel, the nets, the “Everything I need to know about tropical fish” book, the chemicals for the water, the filter, the heater, and of course the plastic plants that look like corral reefs (sorta). My husband the engineer took the lead role in setting up the aquarium and learning the various perimeters of ph balance, ammonia levels in the water, and the fluid dynamic joy of the filtering system. My particular skills were not called into service...yet.

Scott and the kids took a field trip to the local pet store and picked out hardy "test pilot" fish. Every fish was paired up, except for one. The Dusty Mollie. I worried about her from the beginning. As the other fish settled into the tank, she swam up and down the sides, nervously. I consulted my fish-loving friends, none of whom had ever heard of a gold Mollie. There was growing concern that she was, in fact, a goldfish whose urine would kill the other fish. I began to suspect that the road to becoming an Aquarist would be littered with tiny, little fish corpses.

This morning, Emma went to the tank to say good morning. There, quivering in the corner, was the smallest little fish any of us had every seen. The Dusty Mollie was not nervous, she was pregnant. Hovering around the tiny fish were all the predator fish, including the mother. Another small fry was trying to hide in the fake corral reef. It all seemed so tragic. I yelled for Scott to save them. Emma pointed out that they were being eaten and Luke, well, Luke still can't talk about it. Scott shrugged and said "Nature."

Snape (Betta fish) was the lead assassin but the Mollie was involved. It all ended poorly. Live breeders often continue to give birth for up to two weeks. We all have a chance at redemption.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Understanding History

The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough. It's about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
President Obama's School Speech, Sept. 2009

When did we become a country afraid of our own founding principles? Democracy flourishes when citizens talk with each other; with their neighbors who have different political ideals, with their colleagues who attend a different synagogue, and with their children about the sacrifice it takes to be a public servant in this age of instant gratification. Somewhere down the line, it became OK to vilify a political opponent, to refer to him or her as a Communist/Socialist/Facist/Redneck/Etc. This occurs on both the left and right but President Obama has become a lightening rod for the fear we all carry about where our country is heading.

Last week, our school superintendent sent out a notice informing parents that our children would not be watching the President's speech to school children. Our children would have the opportunity to view the speech later in the week. My simple question was and is why? How do we teach our children to honor the office of the president of the United States when we imply that what he has to say is so subversive, it needs to be censored? We also missed an opportunity to join in community-building on a national level. My son could have talked to his cousin in Texas about what the president was saying to both of them.

As the day went on, and the school I work for in a different city made the same decision, I felt a sense of hopelessness about how polarized our country has become. When did we become so fearful of our politicians? How could school district after school district make a decision that goes against what has saved this country time and time again? Open and honest dialogue...especially when you don't agree with what your leaders are saying.

Our family watched the speech that night and I was proud of our President. I have always honored the office and will teach my children the same. No matter what one's politics are, it is a supreme sacrifice to serve in this day and age. An age where the media wants to know what kind of underwear you wear, where you are accused of destroying the country by suggesting that health care is a right, not a privilege, and where our communities are so divided, we stop trusting one another. History has taught us that censorship is never the answer. I hope the students bring that up when they are allowed to watch 5 minutes of the president's speech on Friday.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cousin Anna

I'm wearing a flannel shirt as I type this, seems a bit early for that but that is the beauty of New England...a two week summer. This is labor day week-end and my niece is returning from Texas for her last year of college. She came up for a quick visit and I had this conversation with my two this evening as we were all missing her after she left:
"Is Anna your Aunt?"
"No, she is my niece...she was also my first pumpkin."
"So she was your first kid?"(try and wrap your head around the metaphysical implications of that question)
"No, sweets, you guys are my only kids...but she was the first little one in the family...she was the family's first pumpkin."
"So everybody liked her and so then there could be more kids."
Yep...Anna led the way. I remember her locking me out of the car when she was two years old. I remember crying in the driveway at the crack of dawn, saying goodbye to that pumpkin and driving from Texas to New England. I remember the beautiful poem she wrote and read at my wedding at the ripe old age of 11. Now, I listen to her tales of studying abroad in Greece, of the magic she found in Switzerland, and the Cotton Candy mountain she showed us pictures of in Turkey. I am amazed at what an accomplished artist she is at 21 and most of all, I feel such hope. Her generation will listen to Obama's speech this Tuesday and judge it on content. She will tackle injustice and oppression through her art (she already has) and through her world travels. So, pumpkin, you come for a visit whenever you can. It does our hearts and souls good.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Poetry Present

I'm trusting that my husband is going to continue to sporadically visit BA and so I can think out loud about ways to honor our 10th year anniversary. He is a romantic who masquerades as an engineer. He pays attention in ways that continue to astound me 10 years into the deal. Over the years, I have purchased numerous gifts that have failed completely. Here is a partial list:

1. Black Fedora with a red bird feather of some kind...very Frank Sinatra. He has not worn it once.
2. Puffy slippers purchased at one of those shops that suck you in because they have a lot of gadgets designed for all the men in your life. I can't remember the special feature that I thought an engineer might appreciate but he has not worn them once.
3. Tibetan dress shirt--I bought this because it is the only culture where Scott is an XL. He wears this on only the most special of occasions.
4. Numerous Gnomes--he does have a great appreciation for these magical creatures but you can't buy a gnome for every special occasion--it shows a lack of creativity and your children come to think of their father as a gnome.
5. Running tights--extra long---I'm not sure how that happened but he hasn't worn them once.

So, you can see how the pressure might be mounting, just a bit. My artist friends have advised me to stop thinking in terms of things and start thinking in terms of experiences. They might have a point.

So, my love, I am putting together a few poems you might appreciate. Here is the first one--


I have a feeling that my boat
Has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing
happens! Nothing.....Silence.........Waves....

--Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Juan Ramon Jimenez
translated by Robert Bly

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Day 2009

Being a mom that works outside of the house, one gives up a few things. To date, the hardest thing to let go of is seeing these two beautiful faces off to their perspective first days of school. I gently pulled my first grader out of bed at 6:30 so I could do her hair (did you get it done, you might be asking while looking at this photo?) before I left for work. She was feeling a bit anxious so you will notice the necklace around her neck. This is a peace medallion that I made about 20 years ago with a medicine bag attached to the back of it. Standard first grade fare for the child of a hippie:)

She was crying as I walked out the door. Not even close to being easy. Meanwhile, the third grader is feeling so good that I forget to write a note to his teacher reminding her that he is in aftercare today. More on that later. I plead with my husband to take back to school photos..for the blog, for their scrapbooks, for posterity. What I forget to tell him is that the key component in a back to school shot is not the fleece jacket but the Look-how-much-my-mom-loves-me-she-bought-me-this-fabulous-dress shot. He being kind of a Zen guy without all the posturing just shoots them in the moment. He emails me at work telling me all is well. I relax. Cut to the end of the day as I round the corner to the playground to pick up Emma:
"Emma, where is your dress?" Embarrased giggles from the aftercare staff, unprintable thoughts about what I will do to my husband if he, as it suspiciously looks like, forgot to put a dress on my baby...

"It's in my backpack"...."Why?"......"I put it there"....."Why?"...."Mom, we had gym and I couldn't move."
Husband saved. Cut to the next aftercare program to pick up my son:

"How was the day?"....."It was great except I tried to walk home". Remember the note I forgot to write because I was hyper-focusing on the first grader's anxiety? My fault, all my fault.
Thank you Mr. Wilson for walking him back to school. "Mom, I hope it's OK but I cried a little bit today when you weren't there"

Son, I hope it's OK because I cried a little tonight too. I love you guys so much but I can't keep your clothes on you once you get to school and I can't always anticipate when signals are going to get crossed and you will end up on the wrong path. I can promise to be ever so grateful when we end up back together at the end of the day.