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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Some parts of moving here have been hard: moving away from family and friends, leaving my home, making the decision to retire from a career. But one thing that I am really loving is the mix of people here compared to where I used to live.
Where I came from before, it was much more homogeneous. It was a rarity to see someone ‘different’ or unique or speaking anything other than English. Here it is an every day occurrence to hear a span of languages or dialects.
Even where I work, we are all so different. There are many people of all different colors. It’s not always easy for me to understand everyone and how they speak, so I must be more diligent in my listening skills–never a bad thing for any of us.The accents are tricky so I try hard to understand what is being said to me. It doesn’t always work and sometimes I fail miserably.
We all look different too. Many with beautiful dark brown skin and hair worn in all sorts of fantastic styles. Some with more light brown skin and the stories of their home back in Puerto Rico or Cuba. Many of these co-workers were immigrants and tell me their stories and have such interesting opinions during this political time. It’s fascinating to hear their perspectives.
Many have heavy New York accents or speak outwardly about their strong Jewish or Christian faith. Some are teased a bit: like when they want their cup of ‘cawfee’, but it’s all in good fun. There is an acceptance of the openly gay and lesbian employees also, something that probably wouldn’t fly where I used to be. Everyone is just out…no hiding. It’s comfortable and cool.
They might kid me about being a vegan and the strange drinks I bring in, but it’s not unheard of like before. I mean after all, this is a city! Yeah, most of them drink alcohol (not at work), but they understand the good stuff too. People bring in ethnic dishes to share, bake for one another and generally share cultures.
It’s viva la difference! Pretty much no-one cares….at least to your face. What they say behind one’s back, well, that I do not know. But generally I do get a sense, at work anyway, that the skin colors, ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, sexual orientations etc. really don’t get in the way of anyone’s opinion of each other. Maybe other stuff, but not those things.
This is quite a refreshing change. And for me personally, I completely love being immersed among so much color, culture and diversity!
Walking I had yet another moment of realization today. It was after another confrontational day at work. I ponder these moments and really wonder about them. But then I thought back to my last job in New England and realized that there were co-workers there that were difficult too, and that’s when I realized the difference. And it’s not just a difference at work, but in the people in general.
Back home, as I still tend to call it (and feel it is I suppose), the folks are often what one think as the stereotypical New Englanders–keeping their emotions and their lives mostly to themselves. It takes them a long time to get to know someone and trust them (and some never do), but once they do, you’re golden.
They can be a pretty silent people, and you as an outsider, which I always considered myself (even though I lived for 20 years in one NE state and 30 in another)– I was really from NY. And they never forget that either!
You may live in a house for years, but they don’t consider it yours until you move, then they refer to it as the old so and so house. Many are the salt of the earth, but are reserved in offering. In some ways, you must earn your place in the community, it’s not automatic.
And when they do choose to speak, they usually have something to say–it may not be much, and they won’t care if you agree, but they’ll hold to their principles and beliefs come hell or high water. Pretty much nothing will change their minds, not even reason sometimes. They just stand firm! But real New Englanders will do it over a beer or two (maybe more), and are used to letting others do their own thing. They’ll just think they are wrong.
If they are angry, they will stew and not talk to someone. Or maybe have some beers and have a fight. Get it over with and be done.
Then I came here to the south…not the polite south either. Initially I was shocked by the rudeness of people! Gosh, you couldn’t sit at a light for one second without someone honking their horn!
And at work too, of course I’ve mentioned the craziness. I attributed it to being the surgery department, but today I realized that this may not totally be it! It may be just living in this area and the personalities of the folks down here and how they are used to acting.
They are much more brazen: if they are angry, they snap and say it! It can shock you because you might not even realize what you did to them. And they get angry at the smallest things too. People are loud and have big personalities. I notice this in grocery stores too. It’s quite amusing actually.
I’m guessing the difference is because of a few things: there are more people for one. So everyone is vying for space and air time. You have to be loud I suppose they must think–but please not at work!! The grocery stores have loud music too. And there are cultural differences too, where in NE, everything is very homogeneous.
It is probably just more stressful living here? Although NE is cold and dreary so much of the time–wouldn’t you think that is stressful? But maybe that toughens them and makes them quiet and inward. There’s a lot more money here too, so maybe folks are entitled in some ways. And they are from all parts of the country, trying to blend with each other. Does it work? Well, sometimes, when everyone is yelling, talking over each other, beeping their horns and misunderstanding one another…. um, no–not all the time.
All places have their advantages. But I as of yet have not found the place I resonate with sadly. I am a mix of both these places in a way. I am outgoing in some ways and like a mix of people, loving the cultural stew. Yet, my quiet NE home was so peaceful and beautiful too–and the people there, while challenging could be the most endearing friends.
So where will I find my next home? How to find a combination of both–how to get a sense of community without the harsh edge of, well, stressed-outness that I find here? That close-knit days of old where neighbors helped one another and cared with a beautiful backdrop?
Sitting 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.
Today I did something I don’t often do, but like to do when I can. I went to Church…yes, Church. I go occasionally to the UU…or Unitarian Universalist Church that is local to me. I used to go years ago when I lived in Syracuse, NY and loved it. I loved it for its welcoming and open community. It is an accepting and loving place without emphasis on God or Christianity. This was a comfort to me as I am not a Christian, raised by a Jewish Mother and Protestant Father and coming out pagan myself.
So when I found a ‘church’ and a ‘religion’ that was more a community of liked minded people where I could meet folks that did good things, said interesting things and often had interesting classes, I was willing to give it a try. It was an easy fit, without the religious jargon that so often gave me the willies other places did when I visited.
When I came to New England, my family and I tried the UU Church here. The building was much more ‘church-like’ than the one in NY, having a steeple and pews. This was at first a bit of a put-off, but I decided venture forth anyway.
Honestly, I’ve never found it quite like my NY family, but it has it merits I suppose. I’ve never quite gotten as involved though. It has never grabbed me the same way and even put me off in some ways. As a spiritual person, and one that keeps evolving, I won’t give up hope.
So today, I had gotten enough rest and decided on a rainy NE day, it was a good day to listen to someone say something poignant. It’s always lovely to hear the music also and maybe even meet someone nice. Being single does get lonely, and having a community is something I am trying to find.
This month is ‘inclusive’ month there: including others–gays, disabled, people of color, transgender etc. It was interesting listening to the minister talk about this (and other short talks) while sitting among an all white audience of people all over 50. I’m willing to bet there were no transgender people listening today (although I could be wrong), and I didn’t notice any gay couples either.
One problem I’ve always had with the UU community, especially the one around here, is that they talk a big game, but don’t seem to walk that talk. One gentleman did mention the fact that we were all white and maybe we should work harder on attracting people of other nationalities. Could be tricky where we live! Hey, I’d be happy to see some young people! Most everyone looked over 70! It doesn’t seem a stretch they could attract younger people with a credo talking about inclusiveness!
So I guess my point is: it’s all well and good to say stuff, but you have to live it too. If you have a credo, don’t just read it every day, but do the things it says! Believe it, feel it, emote it. Whether you are Christian or UU, it doesn’t matter! Or even if you are an atheist–be strong in your beliefs. Get out there and beat the street.
I know I’ve always had a big mouth–my third grade teacher called me chatterbox. Hopefully now I put it to good use. And hopefully my ethics and belief system is one that is based on fairness, equity and equality. I’m not always perfect and catch myself plenty, but I try to take each person as they come. And I always open my big mouth when I feel something isn’t right.
Maybe if I keep going to this UU Church I can help them get more diversity. It’s all well and good to tout diversity within four walls of a church, but we have to take that credo to the streets and bring it inside!
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.
The photos I posted of the race where my friend ran today were in my New England state… There was a 1/2 marathon and a marathon going on today. Many people slated to run the NYC marathon came here to run today as that race was canceled at the last minute due to Sandy. Some runners decided to stay in NYC and help out since they were already there. But some decided they had invested too much money and energy into preparing for the race to pass up another chance to run. So they drove the 5 hours to run today.
You can’t really tell by my photos that a running race was going on. But I feel the photos depict what a marathon stands for on another level. If you look closely you can see in some pics the top of tents, but mostly there are no signs. But you will see things that represent strength, hope, beauty and honor.
To me the flags represents the best of our country–the volunteers, the first responders, the red cross and the countless people who help at a time like this. The photos with the sun shows the hope the we humans continue to have even in the face of adversity. When one person helps another and reaches out and does a kind thing. The trees represent the strength people have to come back from disasters and pick up and start over. There were buildings downtown today that were in tact that reminded me to be grateful for what I do have, and to never take anything for granted. And the monument was a reminder to honor those who do service for us in some way and to never forget.
The trees downtown were still in full fall color. It was like they wanted to cheer the people from NY and NJ that came to run. New Englanders are tough and seem to face tough odds with a shrug of the shoulders and a nod of their head. If anything today maybe we shared some of that grit with our fellow runners to take back to their storm torn cities. And hopefully with the stamina of a runner and a little bit of that grit mixed in…maybe they can slowly rebuild.