All right with me

Yesterday felt like a turning point. Solidarity. Strength. The world, it would seem, is watching. I gave up my ticket to D.C. and I realized too late that it pretty much broke my heart not to be there. I thought I was okay with it, that it didn’t matter that much; turns out it mattered a lot. So on a whim, we headed to a local march. There were no speakers, and it was really more of a gathering than an actual march, but there were — by some estimates — over a thousand people with signs and banners and a great deal of heart.

What I know to be true is that I stand with those who marched yesterday, in countries and cities around the world. In D.C., in L.A., in Berlin, in London… I stand with those who want progress and freedom, who support social justice, who believe in science and facts and the importance of education. I do not for one minute think that this many people around the world are crybaby liberals who didn’t get their way. I think they are justifiably concerned, as I am, about the policies and threats of an unenlightened, uneducated man and his band of billionaires.

When my son greets me in the morning, he says “Well, we survived another day.” And I know that his words are a thin mask of his own concern. He is studying WWII in his social studies class and his eyes are open to the warning signs. I’m tired of those who believe they need to Trump-splain me. There’s really nothing that needs to be explained.

So, for now, I will bask in the beauty of those who marched through the streets of the world yesterday knowing that tomorrow the hard work begins again. I have my senators and congressional rep on speed dial, my local state reps too. This is not the time to sit quietly. Yesterday we marched. The strength, the hope, the love — it was out there. The words of negativity, of fear, of carnage, were silenced for a moment by a sea of pink. And that’s all right with me.

collageacollagebphoto credit: New York Times

Forever lasting peace

It doesn’t take long, does it? That moment when we cross the threshold, when what may have left us feeling outraged or sad simply becomes this amusing or interesting little thing that happened. This morning I found myself laughing out loud when I read the headlines. I just don’t know what to do anymore, how to react, how to stop this train wreck. The danger here lies in giving up, in looking at the abundance of absurdity laid before us by this Republican congress and president-elect and shrugging our shoulders.

To be completely honest, I haven’t thought much about Hilary in recent weeks. That’s over. I can’t say I’m thrilled that she and Bill are headed to DC to attend the inauguration, but on some level, I get that she’s damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. Who I’ve thought about most as the news of the last few weeks unfolds is Chuck Schumer. And Kamala Harris. One seasoned player and one newbie, but both taking a strong stand against the absurdity with the press and on social media.

I read an interesting document last night, one that’s made the rounds lately. It was put together by congressional staffers and is a roadmap for peaceful, respectful resistance through official channels. Bottom line: put your senators and representatives on speed dial. Call them. Don’t email, don’t tweet, call. Speak up. Be specific. Tell them what you want them to do, thank them for their good work, and pin them down on the things you care about. It matters.

I started this blog when I was diagnosed with cancer and I never imagined just two years later I would be writing about my feelings on politics and social issues. But here I am, compelled by a need for greater understanding, for clarity, for hope.

In the book “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, I was struck by his observation, just a few pages in, on how native American civilizations have not been accurately portrayed through history. He writes that the Iroquois, for example, were enlightened and advanced in ways that they are rarely credited with.

“Women were important and respected in Iroquois society…the senior women named the men who represented the clans at village and tribal councils…they tended the crops and took general charge of affairs while the men were always hunting or fishing. And since they supplied the moccasins and food for warring expeditions, they had some control over military matters…[Children] were taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions…” He goes on to write that John Collier, an American scholar who lived among Native Americans in the 1920s and 1930s said of their spirit, “Could we make it our own, there would be an eternally inexhaustible earth and a forever lasting peace.”

An eternally inexhaustible earth and a forever lasting peace. How many times in the history of this nation, in the history of the world, have we missed this opportunity? So much of what is done in the name of progress, of advancing civilization, is done with a heavy hand, with a motive to suppress and push back entire populations, to gain absolute control. Nothing has changed.

It strikes me that this country was built on the backs of people who stood up. People who were present — with all their flaws and missteps — people who chose and continue to choose policies and programs that bring us together, that support our individual rights not at the expense of others, but for the common good. The myth of Thanksgiving is this: the natives welcomed Europeans to this land in the hope that a peaceful co-existence would follow. But human nature being what it is, greed and the desire for personal gain pretty much shot that idea to hell. So much of what was is repeated. The analogies today direct us to look to WWI and WWII to learn our lessons, but the truth is, we need to look back even further.

We are at a crossroad. It was never meant to be one-party rule. Or, even worse, one party rule with a puppet at the helm. As challenging as it may be, one form of recourse is actually very simple: Let your voice be heard. Call your congressmen. Don’t let them off the hook. Praise them for the good they do and call them out for the bad. I know, it’s so much easier to shrug our shoulders and walk away, to let this be someone else’s problem. But we can’t do that. This is too important. We need a sea change, a rising up of our voices, a demand for something better than this. At the very least, we have to support the people who have the power and the access to make a difference.

Maybe then we will find our forever lasting peace.

All the good

Two nights ago we stood under my mom’s Christmas tree, me, my brother, and my sister, for the first time in just about 13 years. It’s been that long since we have all spent the holidays together in California. Too long. There are some things in life that slip away from us, things that become tricky to unravel, and while I regret all the missed years and missed opportunities, I do not regret the ties and commitments that have kept us anchored to our holidays in New York. Life is what you make it. And ours has been (and continues to be) a good life. Too often regret stands in the way of gratitude. And I am nothing if not grateful.

Our seven days in LA were everything I hoped they would be. We fell asleep our first night to the sound of pouring rain on the roof (yes rain!!) and woke to the incredible sight of the mountains painted green and the sky crystal blue. It was LA winter as I remember it. One day chilly and grey, the next sunny and warm. Everything about this holiday was magical. And while my son and my nephew were showered with presents to unwrap, all of us took our greatest joy from the gift of simply being together.

Things I loved: watching the boys — old and young — pile into the car as they headed out to one adventure after another, baking Christmas cookies in my mom’s new kitchen, seeing snow on the mountains as we drove into Pasadena, visiting with family and friends, talking to my brother late into the night about politics and faith, the Riverside Festival of Lights, spending the day at the Autry Museum with my NY crew, and watching my son scour the shelves of an antique store for old redlines and die cast cars. It was, in fact, a perfect holiday.

And now, on the eve of a new year, as I struggle to hold on to hope and faith, a belief in our better selves, I have my memories of California to keep me warm. I need that now more than ever. In just three days, I will be a year older — maybe even a year wiser. I can barely grasp the fact that I will be turning 55 years old. My new year and birthday wish for myself is simply this: to stay strong, to keep fighting the good fight, to stand on the right side of history, to never be silent.

In the face of what 2017 may bring, these are the words I chose to live by.

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”  – John Wesley

Happy New Year, my friends. May the days to come bring peace and hope to our hearts. Whatever lies ahead, remember no one among us walks alone. We are together in this world, on this beautiful but fragile planet, and I will never stop believing that our most important task is to care for each other, protect each other, and love each other. This is my revolution.

Working through it

I’ve spent the last week or so writing a story about productivity. This piece put up a good fight — I can almost believe it didn’t want to be written — but with the help of a smart editor and a few really productive (!!) hours yesterday and early this morning, I finally got the job done.

I mention this because somewhere within these last few days, as I was researching scientific studies and watching TED talks on time management, I stumbled back onto my zen.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still dismayed and devastated over cabinet appointments and Russia and fake news and where this country seems to be headed, but today it feels more intellectual, less emotional. I can no longer feel my blood pressure (literally) rising as I read the news.

I feel a sense of resignation. I think there are some very dark days ahead, but I see now that the only way to move forward is to get through it. There’s no reverse, there’s only straight ahead. It’s time to put our heads down and do the hard work, we have to watch this incoming administration like a hawk, and we have to support the organizations that will be able to hold the president elect and his band of billionaires to the letter of the law.

I always learn something when I work on the stories I am assigned. I like information and facts; I also love words. What I was reminded of when working on this most recent piece is that we need to devote as much time to the things that keep us happy and healthy as we devote to the hard work we do.

I want to keep that in mind as this undignified and erratic administration takes hold. In other words, I’m going to have to pace myself. And spend a fair amount of time on self-care. To that end, I’m anticipating an unprecedented amount of travel to my safe haven and heroic home state of California in 2017. I need my family and the Central Coast and the wild beauty of the Pacific.

I hope you, too,  find the time this holiday season to enjoy the things that bring you peace. Step away from the fray, enjoy your loved ones, and do the things that fulfill you.

I know some of you who follow and read here don’t agree with my politics and to that end, I will simply say we can agree to respectfully disagree. I will never back down from an agenda of inclusion and justice for all. To those of you who share my views, stay strong. It’s always darkest before the dawn.

Merry Christmas, and may the new year be full of blessings — great and small.

 

 

I believe in we

Do I feel any better today than I did the morning after the election? Not really. But the good news is, I’m no longer suffering from panic attacks and insomnia. I guess the new normal is beginning to sink in despite how horrific I find our current state of affairs. The biggest realization I’ve come to in the three weeks post election, is that I completely underestimated our enlightenment. I sincerely thought we were better than this.

No one will ever be able to convince me that we’re headed in the right direction. This country is pretty messed up. I’m not sure how we fix the things that need to be fixed. But I know we won’t make any progress by denouncing climate change, targeting ethnic groups, or chipping away at civil and equal rights. I’m still waiting for our new president to do or say something presidential. And no, saving a few jobs in Indiana while giving away the store in government incentives does not feel hopeful. It feels like he got played.

The world is a cold place and my instinct is to nest and hold tight to the people I love. I keep telling myself that this too will pass, but I don’t really believe it. I know good people are doing good things; more of my friends are making an effort to educate themselves, to understand what’s happening and to have a voice. Looking back is pointless, except for the lessons to be learned. I’m not yearning for what might have been — but I see where the mistakes were made, the hubris, the lack of awareness. We didn’t see it coming. The groundswell. And yet, there is this: the president-elect is losing the popular vote by an historic margin. According to every news source out there, Hillary leads the popular vote by 2.3 million…and climbing. So, the groundswell? Yeah… I’m not so sure. Somehow less people in more states were the deciding factor. But there’s no going back now.

As time goes on and the routines of daily life take over, the shock and the disbelief will continue to fade. The one thing I will carry with me is this: good people doing good deeds can change the world. No matter how disillusioned I become, I will always believe that to be true. I will always take the side of kindness and justice and equality. Because that’s the only kind of world I want to live in. I don’t believe in us vs. them.

I believe in we.

 

 

Flight

I flew to Los Angeles yesterday to spend a few days helping my mom — and my siblings — with her ongoing recovery from a broken shoulder and a fractured knee. That fall two weeks ago was no joke; recovery is always such hard work. I found her to be a little better than I expected in some ways, but not so much in others. I think, in this, we have a long road ahead of us.

I continue to be on the verge of tears, emotional and distraught from the results of 11/9. I realized last night that so much of what I’m feeling is rooted in the same sense of fear and dread I had after another fateful day, a day that shares the same digits, just in a different order. I don’t buy any of the “get over it” rhetoric. As much as I have wanted to give our new president the benefit of the doubt, his behavior and his choices in recent days have left me with very little generosity in my heart.

I’ve been vocal about my feelings on FB, but  rather than continue to post my shock and awe, I’m going to put on my objective reporter hat (yes, I have a degree in journalism; I am trained to see both sides of the story and to illuminate the actual facts). I want to look for ways to better understand what’s happening here, and whatever means we may have to effect change in the months ahead.  I’m sure the law of averages would tell me that there are a number of people in my life who pulled the lever for him (though I don’t know for sure because I’ve had no one approach me directly to explain why they think this president is a viable choice), but I believe the only way forward for me is to somehow get my feet on the path of better understanding. I don’t really know if I am capable of this, but I’m going to try. I want to embrace the dignity and class of our outgoing administration. I want to go high when they go low. But make no mistake, I’m still fired up and ready to go. And I will not stand quietly in the face of injustice.

That said, I’m not quite ready to let go of the grief. November has been a slap in the face, a beat down of so many things I’ve come to take for granted. I need time. I need space. Recovery is hard work. I plan to focus my efforts in the coming days on supporting organizations like the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Emily’s List. When a single party controls the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial), we need watchdogs with the muscle and the power to hold things in check. I hope, too, that somewhere in this mess, a new-age Woodward and Bernstein will rise above the media ranks, that newsrooms will stand up to their corporate owners and personal bias to simply report the news. I don’t need a talking head on TV or a front page story to tell me what to think. I need them simply to present the facts so I can think for myself.

I also plan to use this historical moment to educate my son in the hope that his generation can do better. We’ve had countless discussions in recent days about the difference between fact and fiction, about how you have to dig deep, find sources you can trust. The internet has no filter, so much of what is reported, so much of what sways public opinion to the right or to the left is not based on facts. Misleading headlines, click bait and Wikipedia have become the norm. Everyone has an agenda and a means for promoting it. If we buy into everything we read without really doing our homework, we’ll never break the cycle of misinformation.

Still, the most important lesson I can teach my son — and one that can only come from my own example — is that compassion and empathy, kindness and a generosity of spirit are the North Star. It’s okay to grieve for what has been lost, but we must ultimately find our way home. Just as violence and hate breed more of the same, so too does love. I want him to know we are stronger than this. We are better than this. Hope is a fragile thing, a small bird with feathery wings. It’s impossible to hold onto, but we must never stop trying.

 

 

Slip sliding away

I feel my zen slipping slowly out of reach. It’s not just one thing, it’s everything these days: the election, the dread of what’s to come regardless of who wins, family things, parenting things. One of my oldest friends (as in longtime, not age) has taken to calling me Debbie Downer on our text messages. I get where he’s coming from. Most of what we frantically type late into the night is about the election, and I really doubt there’s a human being on the planet who feels hopeful about what’s been going on in American politics. I’m not here to write about my views, but for the record: I’m with her. No doubt or question about it. And not because she’s the lesser of two evils, but because she is a superstar in my book.

But again, I didn’t come here to write about or debate politics.

Thursday night my mom fell, hit her head on the tile floor, lost consciousness, broke her shoulder and humorous bone, and fractured her knee. It happened during the wake for my dear friend who passed away on Sunday from ovarian cancer. I’m told there was a great deal of panic, emotions were fraught, everyone was sad and overwhelmed and then the fall, no one could find her pulse. Of course, I was here. Three thousand miles away. And I don’t want to write about that either, about the guilt, the feelings of helplessness, the phone calls and text messages to my sister and brother. It has been years of this through countless family crises. So, no, that’s not what I want to write about.

My mom is a fighter. One of the first things she said when she could was something to the effect of “there goes Christmas.” And, of course, she was thinking about the fact that we had already bought our tickets, that the four of us living here in NY are planning to spend the holidays in LA for the first time since my 15-year-old son was a toddler. Christmas means everything to her. She’s been on cloud nine since we told her we are coming. But again, she’s a fighter. And through the unbearable pain and disappointment and sadness and frustration of the long recovery ahead, she is focused on what she needs to do to move forward.

Sometimes — despite my best efforts — the worry seeps in. It’s not where I want to live, or how I want to live. But when I’m tired and stressed, my thoughts turn to all the what ifs. What if my cancer comes back is the big one, but there are plenty of others. Some are tiny annoying thoughts, others are harder to push aside (like the fact that we recently discovered the bank put a $10,000 lien on our house seven years ago and we have no idea why). I know I’m not special. Life is ridiculously hard and challenging for just about everyone. Yet still, moving far away from this mindset, choosing to live on the bright side, is the healthiest choice I can make.

Yesterday, while we were waiting to hear whether my mom needed surgery to reset her shoulder (she doesn’t, thank god), I was looking up flights and mentally trying to rework my calendar for the next week. For now, a panicked run to the airport is on hold, but not entirely ruled out. Still, my heart hurts with the heaviness of it all.

When I told my brother-in-law what happened, he asked about Christmas. I told him we are still going and he said, “we’ll just have to bring the joy with us.” Smart man.

When I think about walking this other path, finding and focusing on my own definition of inner peace, I think mostly about gratitude. It’s not about eliminating what’s difficult or stressful or frustrating, but accepting that those things exist. The absence of challenges does not lead to peace because we would have no perspective, no context. It’s the acceptance of conflict, the understanding that despite hard times, there is so much to be grateful for — that’s where my zen lives. And while there are times when I feel it slipping away, I know deep in the heart of my soul, that it is never really gone.

This is life’s work. This is what I hold on to. As bad as things get, I still come back to gratitude. And I know that’s not a bad thing, but it’s not an easy thing, either.

 

Amazing grace

My sweet friend Gretta died on Sunday. Ovarian cancer. Fucking cancer. I am at a total loss.

We grew up together, and then, somehow, we got cancer together. Gretta was already a year into it when I was diagnosed. And though her initial surgery and treatment were a success, she learned her cancer had come back right around the time I had my first biopsy. When I told my mother I had breast cancer, the first person she called — the first person she cried with — was Gretta’s mom.

When I think of my dear friend, I think only of her grace and her beauty. She taught me how to live each day with gratitude and hope, even in the face of absolute despair. I have never known anyone like her; she was a beacon of light in my darkest hours.

The last time I reached out to Gretta she was in the hospital. We texted a bit and then she sent me a gif of a beating heart. Two weeks later, she was gone.

Rest in peace, my beautiful friend. I will love you always and forever hold you close in my heart.

The sun came out

Last weekend I helped my brother-in-law sort through his mother’s things. We made piles for donation and much smaller piles of things to keep. In January, she will have been gone a year, and we are heading into our first holiday season without her. All of this makes me very sad.

I found among her things two notes that I had written to her and my father-in-law around the time of my wedding. I was so young, so earnest, so entirely hopeful and committed to making my life here. I knew that marrying her son meant letting go of every other option. I wasn’t just marrying James and marrying into his family, I was marrying New York, and letting go of California — though you never really let go of the place you grow up, at least not all the way.

This afternoon I finally watched the movie Brooklyn. I didn’t know much about it, but I had heard that it was charming and sweet and it was, in fact, all of those things. In the last scene, the main character is telling another young Irish girl what it is like to leave Ireland and move to Brooklyn. She says: “You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won’t kill you. And one day the sun will come out and you might not even note it straight away, it would be that faint. And then you will catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past, someone who’s only yours. And you’ll realize that this is where your life is.”

And I thought, yes. That is exactly as I remember it. James was my certain someone, and this has been where my life is. When I think back over the years, I know we’ve been happy. We’ve weathered a few storms, but the sun has never let us down.

Of course, California still tugs at my heart, and someday — maybe — we’ll move back. But I’ve been feeling nostalgic, too, for that time when New York felt so new and so believable, and I was a young bride welcomed into a warm and loving family.

And home became this thing I never could have dreamed possible.

Random loose ends

Last night I slept with the windows open. And the air coming in, the cool breeze, the fresh clear morning, reminded me that the season is about to change. I love this time of year. I love how fall sneaks in quietly to overtake the last hot humid days of summer. I love how the cooler days feel like treasure waiting to be discovered. It’s still warm — tee shirt weather warm — much of the day, but the nights and early mornings are cool enough to throw on a light sweater.

A week ago I had an MRI which confirmed a diagnosis of adhesive capsulitis in my left shoulder. In layman’s terms, I have a frozen shoulder. A couple days after the MRI, I had a cortisone shot and now, finally, I am starting to feel some incremental relief. I’m no longer in constant pain, and while my range of motion is still severely limited, the no-longer-in-constant-pain part is really key. In a week I can go back to PT and moderate exercise. I’m beyond ready to put this chapter behind me.

I get frustrated with the level of vigilance, the amount of follow-up and ongoing care, my doctors require. My oncologist has been bugging me to get back on track with regular visits to my primary care doctor. I kind of let that slide last year since I was, well, you know, dealing with the cancer and all that. So last week, I went in for my annual physical. The good news is, I’ve lost ten pounds. But the bad news is I’m about an inch and a half shorter than I was before starting the lupron shots and the aromasin. At my age, that’s not really normal or expected, so even though it’s only been about 16 months since my first bone density test (which was normal), I need to have another one. Oh and my A1C number is a little high despite the fact that my fasting glucose level is well within the normal range. I’m not sure which of these two things bugs me more. I wonder what would happen if I just stopped getting tested for things?

I already know I’m going in the right direction. Most of my health news is good, and the not-so-good things are fixable. Except, of course, the shrinking. Pretty sure I can’t un-shrink. When I consider where I am, where I’ve been and how far I have come, I know I’m in a good place. I have a lot of people in my corner, and I have so very much to be thankful for. Somehow that makes the annoying and the crazy and the frustrating a little easier to take.