Distant Shores


When I was a child, there was an ice-cream that I used to get from the truck that would come to the park near where I lived in NYC. It was the Good Humor truck, for those of you who might remember the familiar jingling of bells as it rolled slowly down the streets so the gathering children could get their 25 cents ready. This particular favorite of mine, was called an Eclair I think, because on the outside it had bits and pieces of nuts and maybe little pieces of chocolate; vanilla ice cream was the next layer which made up the largest part of the pop; but best and most special (and the best part) was the secret hunk of icy fudge-like chocolate inside. It wasn’t very big piece, but it was delicious (or so I recall) and had this particular texture that made it worth the wait.

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I was never a kid to just bite into the thing just to get to the middle. I would savor the whole thing to make it last and then take my time with the special part. Funny, because I never had much patience in life–but with treasures, I did. Just like how I never tore into Christmas gifts, but would open them throughout the day…(my kids hated this about me).

Someone who has known me for a long time, when I explained where I am  emotionally now and how I am conducting my day-to-day existence, said: that is not you at all! It gave me pause. What is me? Who am I really?

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I’ve run most my 60 years in a frenetic and unfocused way; making decisions based on how my mood was or the wind was blowing. It felt like I was making rational choices at the time, but in retrospect, I see now it wasn’t the case at all. Rather I was a sailboat buffeted by the winds trying desperately to steer to the nearest coast. Each shore looked better than the last, but upon reaching them they felt uninhabitable.

Of course this meant those around me were riding those waves too and often were cast overboard. Many drowned, but some found their own lifeboats and floated on to better beaches…thank goodness.

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It was nothing intentional. It just happened– it was the way I lived.But there was a part of me that knew it wasn’t working. Seeing the floundering of others hurt me, and my own inability to stand upright on this ever swelling craft was making me ill. At some point the ship must dock–in the deep recesses of my mind I knew this as truth.

So who is really me? I moved away from my comfort and have come to live in a place that is alien and barren to me, a desert devoid of water in which to sail. This was really unconscious on many levels, but I am starting to realize absolutely necessary to answer the question. Many spiritual treks to find ones true self include a time where one goes off on a quest: a solitary walk about or vision quest to discover what is real and what isn’t; what to keep and what to leave behind.

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We go through life rather like that Good Humor ice cream pop: multi-layered  with secret parts. Sometimes the secret parts are hidden to even to ourselves. There are bits and pieces we cover ourselves with that have rough edges or appeal, but it’s only the outside, a glamour…the part that faces the world at large. Dig deeper and maybe you will get to the soft part: it is white and can be colored by what we take in through the years we live. It protects the true gift: the sweet, central, secret core. This is the one we work for and may not know for years.

I’m stripping down the layers to find that me. I believe that is the real one, not the one that has faced the world so far. That was a mask I was unaware I wore. I believe my friend had it backward…what she knew was not me; what I am discovering now will be the real person I have had buried within. The visions of her were in my head longing to escape, but were trapped by my own shifting cage.

Someday she will be set free and sail for a place, heading into the sunrise.  Docking at some distant land, she will know with full awareness and clarity, that all will be good.

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Poem: Bull Pine


I sat beneath the bull pine

When all the other kids were off

Its warm rough skin comforting my city kid back

Looking up through the sun slit glinting

We promised to care for each other

The cups of water tenderly carried

Making sure the roots were fed

And my quiet moments in returnr

The yet unknown parts of me

That longed for this peace

Took drinks of solitude

From the cup offered

By the spirit of the tree

 

 

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Is Santa Real?


santaSitting here on Christmas morning, on this bleak 50 degree day in New England, knowing full well many kids have by now ripped into their many brightly colored boxes, I wondered about the reality of Santa. How many of those kids believe, or what do they believe he is and how do the parents keep him real.

As a parent myself, with a myriad of religious/spiritual backgrounds, our household was filled with Christmas, Hanukkah and Solstice celebrations. I’m not quite sure when my childhood belief in Santa, or my own kids, disappeared. In neither case was in some tragic fall to the ground state of despair. It just seemed to be a quiet realization that maybe this guy in the red suit you see everywhere in the malls doesn’t really bring the presents to put under the tree.

I personally wasn’t angry or upset at my parents about this new theory. If not Santa, then who? I’m not sure I pestered my parents to explain it (we didn’t even have a chimney as we lived in an apartment building in NYC) as much of the myth didn’t really work for me anyway. There are so many Santas everywhere you walk in the city: every street corner ringing bells, in every department store and sometimes just walking down the street. So how could any kid possibly believe?

As my kids started to become skeptical and since we lived in a more mystical home, it was very easy to explain that Santa really isn’t a person. Santa is more the representation of the joy of the Christmas spirit and season. I tried to explain that as this symbol he brings gifts because the season is supposed to about giving and he’s jolly because we are supposed to be joyful (because of the birth of Christ I assume). So really he is like a spirit and in that sense real.

And all the Santas we see as kids (and adults) everywhere, they are simply the images of the true feeling and sense of what the day and season is supposed to be. Like any icon should remind us. Whether we are Christian or not, the message is a good one: joy, giving, kindness, love–these are never bad things to celebrate.

It doesn’t matter if Santa is tangible or not. I’m not sure if I had it to do over if I would tell my children he was ‘real’, but I certainly would continue to perpetuate his myth, mystery and magic of this sweet and lovely holiday.

Merry Christmas!

Yet Again: Schools Under Attack


Today I pondered what my post might be when I looked at my computer and saw the news. Yet again an attack at a school, and by a student. As I clicked through the photos, I was struck by how familiar they are becoming these days! It’s like they could be taken and used for the same event. The ones of parent and child huddled close after the event leaving the tragic scene. A lone onlooker/student standing holding a phone ready to call someone or just rung off a call. Ambulances lined up in front of a school that holds in its belly the bloody bodies. School buses lined up too early for the kids to take them to an appointed safe area. Firefighters, police and EMT’s swarming a place they just don’t belong. And aerial shots of a local high school or elementary school in some small town USA.

I grew up in New York City. I took the subway to my public school. I was a white kid in a primarily non-white school. We had stuff in our school: cherry bombs, fist fights, kids making out in the hallways, smoking. Girls used to stick pins in my butt walking up the stairwell on the way to class. I even got into a fist fight with a kid in a class once. But I don’t ever recall this kind of violence. Not so pervasive, so recurrent, so callous and so vicious. It’s hard for me to understand.

There are many theories: the computer and access to the internet; the lack of family control; the growing mental instability; the lessening of social ties. I’m no psychologist, so I don’t venture to guess why this is happening. I only know it pains me to see. To know that parents cannot find a safe haven sending their children to school is almost incomprehensible to me.

Recently I read home schooling was on the rise. I used to feel completely against this form of teaching, that it gave the kids an unfair social disadvantage. But now…I’m not so sure. Just from a safety point of view, I think I might understand! If we can’t figure out how to keep our children safe in schools, why would anyone want to send them there? But we don’t want them prisons either.

And this is where it becomes just so sad. Part of learning now has to be how to protect yourself from a potential attacker, knowing it could be a fellow student. Does this breed mistrust, or does it build self-confidence and awareness? This is the world in which we now live, and this is a pathetic reality. We can’t just pretend it isn’t. But we don’t have to like it.

Bring me back to the days when kids played in the streets or woods and not on their computers all day. Where a healthy dose of sunshine beat out iPads and texting. If you were outside all day, then maybe the TV you saw was minimal and didn’t involve seeing endless violence over and over. The time when children had decent role models. Not ones that shoot each other and seem to be made into icons by their media, slowly tempting their underdeveloped brains into mimicking that destructive behavior. The days where families spent real time together, when everyone wasn’t running in 20 different directions busy with their own thing.   Ah those days are mostly gone!

But one thing we can do is: give money to our schools so they aren’t crowded and teachers aren’t pressured. Then teachers can help us teach our children properly. Because remember this: Our children will be inheriting this earth when we are gone!

 

Filling My Dance Card


There has always been this weird thing about me, but I am feeling it so much more clearly in my golden years. It’s the dual part of me that is part loner, part socialite. It’s the oddest thing and at times creates great conflict within me.

Sometimes one of these personas claws to the front and that will be the cloak I may wear for a while. If it’s the loner woman, then I feel very at odds if I’m in large groups for some reason. No-one would really notice this, because I always had a pretty good way of hiding this fact.  But I would feel myself draw in on myself, sort of like a movie character fading out of scene. I was there, but not really.

When I’m feeling the opposite, then I literally can’t stand being by myself anymore. I start hunting for connections of all sorts: one on one or larger. My personality becomes bigger than life and when I’m in a group I seem to draw people to me. I once took a test of “How Charismatic Are You” and I scored off the charts. And a friend once told me I do this “Marilyn Monroe” thing where I just turned on the sex appeal-just like a switch. I believe that’s this part of my dual personality.

These two sides clash and so it becomes hard for others to know who they are dealing with at times. Most think I’m warm and friendly. It’s the side I try to put forward. But I really tend to see myself as very comfortable alone, and sometimes even preferring it. It may come from being raised an only child–and a latch-key kid at that! I spent many, many hours with nothing but my imagination for a companion.

As I get older, it get scarier to think about living alone the rest of my life. I have many friends all over the country. I make friends easily and keep them. Talking to strangers is something I’ve always done, maybe because I grew up in New York City where personal space is much closer than New England where I live now. It’s harder to make friends here I find. And definitely harder to find intimacy. Or maybe it’s me? Maybe my need to be alone so much is detected and can’t be incorporated into a relationship?

I would think by middle age most people would need lots of personal time and space? This doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. I’ve learned how to balance my social desires and my “I vant to be alone” moments much better than years past. It used to be that I might shut down or close people out because these times crept up on me.  But now I realize that my need for internal quiet is simply a necessity for me and I can identify them maturely.

In analyzing myself (which I do ad nauseam), I could link the fact that I was abandoned by my birth mother quite young to the fact that I learned to be a loner at an early age. It was a survival technique I suppose. And yet I also had to learn to be social in order to survive within the environment where I was left so people would care for me. So this constant internal juxtaposition has always been at play.

I’m currently in a place, as summer reaches its apex and we plummet towards fall then winter, where I don’t want to be lonely during the cold days. So I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands and find a community and make some new friends…hopefully. I’m going back to the Unitarian Universalist Church in a nearby town to see if I can stir up anything. I used to go there years ago, and was a member of a UU church when I lived in Upstate NY. They are welcoming, liberal and socially active. And that’s the other thing: I want to be more socially active. Time to walk my talk more.

So, no more sitting around weekends feeling sorry for my lonely self. Time to take this charismatic personality and step out into the big world (or small town) and say “here I am!” Hopefully the other self won’t come creeping around and try to steal the show while I’m filling my dance card.

Changing Things One Person At A Time….


I guess I’ve always cared as long as I can remember…or at least was told I did.  As a little kid I could never watch the show Lassie because I found it too disturbing, or even read the book Bambi. That’s probably why I’ve been a vegetarian for 35 or so years. My Mother tells me a story of when I was very young and we still lived in New York City. One day I was playing on our balcony and I spotted a nest of baby pigeons. Rats with feathers my Mom called them. But to me, they were baby birds. Their Mom was gone and I was horrified! They needed to be saved and I would not be consoled until they were somewhere safe. I begged my Mother to do something and wouldn’t let up until she called some avian shelter and they got them (or something). I found this out years later! She also informed me that the next time she found a nest filled with baby pigeons, she just tossed them out before I saw them! Thanks Mom.

But this was indicative of my nature from an early age. Just as was the time I was three years old and she came home from work and leaned down to give me a hug. I inadvertently bumped her in the eye and scratched her cornea. She had to wear a patch over her eye for quite some time so it could heal. My Aunt saw me fretting one day over this fact and told me not to worry, that my Mom would be OK. I looked up at her and in my three-year old voice said, “But I want to worry.” This was a famous family story told to me for years.

I continued to be a worrier long into adulthood and still care about needy animals and adults alike. This nature of mine has brought me to adopt a cat with no tail, a 9-year-old emaciated blue tick hound, an abused neighbor cat–and, the list goes on. And even brought me to foster kids and eventually adopt our daughter.

Sometimes this empathy that I have, though, is hard to carry. And the need to help is overwhelming. If often leaves me with a feeling of inadequacy: that I’m not doing enough. As I drove to work this morning listening to NPR, I heard the story of the Syrian refugees and their plight. How children are dying of the cold in camps as no items are allowed to come to them. Children! I cried, at 6 am, driving in my car. This happens almost every day now. I feel constantly helpless.

And in my work as a paramedic I thought I would help more I suppose. Save lives all the time, but this is not nearly the case. We hardly ever save lives. In fact we rarely do. What we do is much more routine than that usually, or most days amounts to paperwork or sitting around. The label of hero almost embarrasses me.

There were times in my life that I thought I would do something great. Make huge differences, news making differences. But with passing days, those moments seem to float by. And I wonder: do I make a difference? Does my caring and this person I’ve been my whole life mean anything in the grand scheme of the world?

Today I got an answer. I’ve worked in my fire department for five years. My Fire Chief was once my EMT partner on the ambulance and then got promoted. He has a different nature than me and wasn’t particularly thrilled with me getting the job at first. I wasn’t a fire fighter and I was a woman. He tolerated me at best and was annoyed with me most days. I was very different from him. But over the years, after sharing a front seat with him in the rig, being on emotional calls with him, talking about our lives together, and just getting older–we’ve both grown.

We joke a lot and he teases me greatly. So when he came to me today and said: I just met your birth parents today, I looked at him suspiciously and figured he had some smart remark to make. But he said, “No, seriously, I mean it–this couple could be your parents, because they were the nicest people I ever met.” And you know, he meant it! I nearly dropped. And I realized that after five years, he got it. He finally understood who I was and appreciated it and that I had changed him. And we went on to have this very amazing conversation. It was a pivotal moment.

Yesterday another co-worker, and someone in paramedic school, came to me for advice because she wants to emulate my style of paramedicine. It’s about caring. Caring about my patients. That’s what my Chief finally gets: that I really care. He said today to one of our Officers, “There is one person on this department that is here because she truly cares.” And he meant me.

So, no, I probably won’t make the news because I’m Mother Teresa or anyone like that, but if I can touch lives, even for 20 minutes at a time in the back of my ambulance, then I guess I’ve done something. I may not technically be saving their life, but maybe I can make it a little easier for those minutes. And I know for some of my patients, they feel no-one cares. But when they step on my truck, they can rest assured that someone truly does. In the grand scheme of things…I hope this counts.