People Need Community

I never quite understood, until recently, what many of our friends and family members meant when they told us, “We may not have seen you a lot, but we always knew you were there.”

 

Over the years, the Princess and I developed a loving group of dedicated friends who shared many an adventure with us. We played bocce ball, held Christmas parties, played board games together, organized camping and hiking expeditions, took long beach walks and went on many a snow shoeing outing over the winters.

 

And in between time, we became family to a number of individuals and created quite a few traditions that people came to look forward to and are currently missing.

 

We, too, are missing those special connections and traditions from of our past. Some of our CA friends have told me that they are cruising by our former home and reminiscing of times gone by, and it saddens me to know that somehow our moving has left a hole in their heart; and that somehow they’re feeling less connected and less whole.

 

The fast pace of an ever growing Silicon Valley and the affluence and entitlement that was coming with it forced us to look at our life in what we once thought was Paradise and head out to new digs and fresh adventures and start some alternative traditions with a different group of people.

 

We have a special bond with our CA friends that was nourished with shared lasagna, garlic bread, numerous glasses of wine and a lot of laughter over the years.

 

People need community and a sense of belonging.

 

And eating good food and drinking fine wine while you’re doing this, was a definite bonus.

I get that.

 

In light of all the heartache going on in the world today, I think we need it now more than ever before.

 

In our own silly, innocent way, every time the Princess and I got people together, we were letting these individuals know that they were important. They mattered. We loved them and we cared.

 

So, let me state this very clearly: “ Relationships (both near and far, new and old) are damn important to the Princess and me. We value the laughter, the love and the steadfast support as we go forward in this new chapter of our life. And encourage each of you to write, call, and make plans to visit us and share in some lasagna, French bread and fine wine.”

 

And being the “Queen of Pot Lucks” and skinflint that I am, you’d best be bringing your own wine and bread. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be making the lasagna!

 

In the meantime, enjoy the remaining days of summer and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

 

 

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How Sad for Us, too

In February of this year, those of us in rain-drenched Northern CA. got a reprieve from the rain gods, and the Princess and I decided to take a drive over to the coast. It was one of those beautiful, CA sunny days with temperatures in the 60’s and cloudless, brilliant blue skies ripe for beach walking, biking and anything else you could imagine doing with a gorgeous, sun-filled day.

We headed to Half Moon Bay to stroll on one of our favorite walks that looks out at the ocean from a path above the cliffs, and were doing just that, when we spotted a stranded baby sea lion cornered against the side of one of the bluffs below us.

Crossing paths with the ranger that was trying to help it, we asked if he knew how the little bugger got there, and he told us that a couple of unleashed dogs had sent him scurrying for his young life. By the time the ranger had tried to intervene, the pup had gotten himself stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place” and couldn’t get himself back out to sea. Realizing the pup needed to be rescued, but unable to help him without assistance, the ranger had put in a call to the people from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. We happened to be there when they arrived, so we watched as they carefully netted and prepped it for the ride to their facility in Northern Marin.

The little guy was clearly distraught and made quite a fuss before he was caught.

The Princess, concerned with its well-being, and wanting to know exactly what they’d be doing, asked one of the volunteers what the protocol was for this pup, and if they thought it would eventually calm down and be ok.

He acknowledged her concern, but really couldn’t predict any outcome. All he could say was that they’d do their best to help it. We’ve been to the Center a number of times and are aware of their meticulous care and involvement with the animals, but were concerned with its young age, and if it would thrive without its mother and ocean community. Sea lions are highly social creatures and currently an endangered species, with humans as their primary predators; so we were extremely concerned about the fate of this little one.

As we stood atop the ridge watching the volunteers and ranger as they cautiously corralled the animal into their nets and eventually the holding cage, we heard the pitiful muffled barks and grunts from the anxious pup, and I suddenly got a lump in my throat and started to tear-up.

Standing there in the bright sunlight, attentive to the waves breaking against the side of the cliffs and listening to the muffled cries from this sweet, frightened little baby, I couldn’t help but get a little upset with the dog owners who created this heart-breaking scene.

I totally understand a dog’s need to frolic and run and can appreciate dog owners who like to have their dogs enjoy the beach unleashed, but the beach was well-signed, and the owners informed: Dogs are to be leashed while walking the beach.

They chose not to obey and let them run free. And I’m sure they weren’t bad people, and their dogs were just being dogs. But now this infant pup is without a mother and was carted off to a home totally unnatural and unfamiliar to him. We don’t know if he’ll make it and have no idea if he’ll thrive, and I can’t help but think: how sad for this little guy and how sad for us, too.

As we go forward with our week, let’s try to be respectful of one another and mindful of the world around us, and I’ll catch ya the next time; looking at life from my shoes.

Language of Kindness

Our landscaper, Marcos, is a swell guy. In order to provide for his wife and twin girls, he commutes 4 to 5 hours a day from a more affordable area in the Bay Area of Northern Ca. to a more affluent community that can afford to pay him living wages. He gets up around 4 each morning, gets home around 7:30 or 8 at night, rain or shine, and never do I see this man in a foul mood.

Most of the time, I’m not home to see/hear him and his whiny leaf blower, but on those occasions that I am, I’ll venture outside of my rabbit hole and swap stories with him. Inevitably, he greets me with the largest of smiles and is always upbeat. Last week I hopped out to see him and he told me of a special award’s assembly he attended at his girl’s school and was so excited and so very proud – their teacher informed him that his girls are doing so well that they’re skipping first grade and going straight into second – what a proud moment for him; what a gift, unexpected.

This immigrant from Mexico, with little money for school, came to America to find freedom and a better life for himself; has twin-girls that are smart, has twin-girls that are talented. This landscaper by week and chef on weekend, has twin-girls that could eventually cure the most incurable of diseases or make a social contribution to the world to make our lives better someday, because their Popi was brave and their Popi was steadfast; in his journey of self, in his journey to freedom.

Never have I heard him complain. Never have I heard him say a bad word about anyone. He’s worked injured and sick and hungry and tired; and all through the pain and all through the fatigue, he’s had one solitary goal – one solitary prayer: let me be a good Popi to my girls, let me keep them safe and provide, and I’ll continue to work hard and I’ll continue to make do.

In between times, he takes English class at night school and makes sure he reads to his girls; they go sledding to Tahoe and cook meals together, too. I don’t know when the man sleeps and sometimes wonder how he makes do, but of this I am certain, of this I am sure: He is a man of integrity and a man I respect, and I’m proud to have met him and thankful that a wall didn’t keep him out of my life.

I don’t speak Spanish and he speaks little English, but his face and his hands speak a language we both understand – a language not taught in our schools – a dialect of kindness and a tolerance of mankind.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the undocumented immigrant and repeated felon who accidentally shot 31-year-old Kate Steinle while she was walking with her father on a SF pier in July of 2015 has only two things in common with my Marcos – his Mexican birthplace and an accent.

I don’t know if Marcos crossed the border legally or illegally.  I do know that he is a loving father and husband and a kind person to most all.  And I know that building walls will not protect us or our children from unkindness or hurt. It will not promote understanding or forgiveness or further our cause.

The walls that we build – the walls of brick and mistrust – are walls that will fall, because they’re walls made of fear and fear will not stand.

Compassion or understanding or acceptance will not solidify. What we fear most will come true, and what is true is simply this: Ignorance is not blissful; it is hurtful and wrong, and ignorant people can only foster more hurt.

If we build walls, let them be walls to hold back water from rivers and seas, and let’s instead build a gateway – a gateway of acceptance and opportunity.

Let the gateway have laws and rigorously enforce them, but let’s make certain we build trust and promote kindness and well-being for all who enter and give; let’s make certain we’re fair and allow others in to share.

As we go forward into this future of uncertainties, may we take heart in knowing that we go forth as a nation built on liberty, equality, opportunity and diversity; and pray that our newly elected representatives take serious the positions they hold and honor their commitments to represent all……

In the meantime, be kind to each other and be kind to yourself, and I’ll catch ya next time, looking at life from my shoes.

 

Eventually Freedom

After 30 years of working for the same company, my oldest brother, Anthony, retired. He’s been working since he was a kid. Whether he was hurling the local newspaper from his bike or hustling kids at school to buy Play Boy magazines, he was always trying to earn a buck. Nothing came easy to him.

I remember one (rare) occasion that my father treated us to an ice cream cone, and Anthony was excluded from the treat. I guess Dad felt Ant could buy his own with his paper money, but my brother had bigger plans for that hard-earned cash; so he just smiled and watched us lick our cones and relished the thought that his money would eventually buy him a new bike, so he could deliver the papers quicker.

He went from chucking newspapers and peddling Playboy magazines to dispensing gas, clerking at Loblaw’s grocery store, and a host of other low paying jobs earning enough money to put himself through 4 years of college. Eventually, he landed an interview with Rockwell International in Los Angeles where he got a job, married his home-town sweetheart, moved her out to the West Coast and promptly got laid off with hundreds of other Rockwell employees.

Small town kid made it big in Los Angeles, Ca, was the pride of family and friends back home in upstate New York, married his school sweetheart, moved her to La-La Land and then lost his job. Frankly, had it been me, I’d had probably gone to my closet, closed the door and asked to be left alone for a few months or so. But not Anthony. He had a wife to support, a life to live and a whole slew of friends and relatives in upstate New York expecting him to do good.

And do good he did. He picked himself up, brushed himself off and never looked back. He and Lucy had three lovely girls and made a great life for themselves with a lot of hard work, perseverance and unconditional love.

I’m happy for my brother. He’s earned the accolades, the parties, the well-wishes and recognition. It’s time for him to buy an ice cream cone and exchange his dress shoes for a good pair of boating shoes and enjoy his well-earned retirement.

During one of my morning walks recently, I began to think back on my retirement in 2008 and couldn’t help but see the obvious contrast in events. No accolades, very few well-wishes and one party that was hastily put together by a well-meaning, loving co-worker.  After many years of teaching special needs kids and facing the ever demanding work load of meeting the legal, district, and parental requirements associated with my job, my immune system crashed and I became physically and emotionally unable to meet the day to day demands of my job. Simply put: I had to stop or face an early death. I decided to stop. And because I was 52, I couldn’t opt to take a regular retirement, and so I went out on a medical retirement and thus began my walk of shame.

My school district was not pleased. Replacing me was not easy. The district decided to thank me for my years of service by denying me health benefits. My union representation was worthless and I was too sick to fight. The Princess eventually drove me to my classroom, and we packed up my belongings one Saturday afternoon with the help of another friend and co-worker. We packed up my car, locked up my classroom one last time and as I handed my keys to my co-worker, I remember taking one last look down an empty hallway at a child-less campus and thinking, “I gave this school and these kids all I had. I had nothing left to give any more. My body was exhausted and was too weak to go on. I had to stop. And it was ok.”

The problem was that it wasn’t ok for others. It was shameful. It was wrong. I was somehow not a regular retiree. Friends asked me if I felt funny working on my garden for fear of being caught by a CalSTRS representative for not looking disabled. Relatives promptly corrected me when I said I was retired and informed me that I wasn’t really retired, but collecting disability monies. And very few people offered congratulations on my many years of service, my many years of working with a population of kids and parents that few individuals would even go near. Somehow I was put on a walk of shame; a treadmill of dishonor. After all, accolades and congratulations are for those who stick it out, those who persevere, or so we’ve been lead to believe. Those of us who leave under any other circumstance need not have acknowledgement; need not have the praise. We’re a society that promotes perfection and winning and have little tolerance for disabilities and differences.

Let’s place blame and shame on those of us not strong enough; those of us not healthy enough. Blame will strengthen the individual. Shame will heal the sick.

Somehow my body’s unhealthy reaction to constant stress and pressure was my fault. I needed to man up and put on my big girl pants, or so I was led to believe.  My job not only required multiple credentials and the ability to teach a variety of learning differences, but at the end of my career, I was required to drive to three schools and cart lessons to each of those schools.

My first summer home to upstate New York after I retired was a mixed bag of excitement and shame. No praise for me. No accolades or honors. I was a loser, a quitter and a failure. The fact that my body and mind crashed was all proof that I was less than and not worthy of praise.

It’s been over 8 years since I retired and the sting of leaving still lingers, still haunts me, still hurts. But my identity today no longer rests on the shoulders of shame; the identity of failure. I retired as a special ed. teacher and I’m proud of my contributions.

Today I’m a writer – a story-teller of sorts. And I’m proud of myself and happy to be me. So, congratulations to my brother and congratulations to ME! We’ve both done good and I’m happy that we’re both free……

Have a great day, People, and I’ll catch you the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

 

The Silent Rage of Elephants

With eyes misting and a heart totally overwhelmed with sadness and inefficacy, I watched Amy Schatz’s HBO documentary “An Apology to Elephants”, narrated by Lily Tomlin.

By the end of the film, the mist turned to full-blown tears, and I began to quietly sob, uncontrollably.

Years ago, I learned that these beautiful, intelligent pachyderms were highly social creatures, which valued community and experienced grief in profound ways; so the documentary’s portrayal of them as the largest mammals on land, with possibly the largest hearts on earth, really didn’t come as any surprise to me.

How I instinctively knew, as a child, that something wasn’t quite right when I saw circus elephants performing, I’ll never know; but I knew then what they’ve documented now – elephants don’t belong in captivity and shouldn’t be “paraded down main street” for all to observe; and then displayed as ballet-performing Dumbo’s, exhibiting “tricks” learned via negative (more often than not, abusive) reinforcement.

As I watched the documentary’s presentation of these mistreated, caged, chained creatures, rhythmically swaying back and forth; I couldn’t help but remember two scenes from my past – one involving an older, learning disabled cousin, who was institutionalized for her learning disabilities; and another scene involving an older friend of mine, who was placed in elder care when she broke her hip and could no longer tend to her basic needs.

Both incidences traumatized me.

Both scenes haunt me to this day.

And all three scenes – the elephant, my cousin and my older friend – permeate my very being to its core.

In the 50’s and 60’s, society didn’t really understand people and their learning differences. They just knew that if you couldn’t learn the way most kids learned, that you needed to be schlepped to some special institution with other kids that had similar problems.

God forbid, you mainstreamed these “special kids” with “normal kids” back then – wasn’t an acceptable form of treatment for retarded people in the 50’s and 60’s. It was better to place them in environmentally cold institutions – void of consistent human interaction and stimulation, and let them “rock themselves back and forth” for their enjoyment and education.

After all, as long as they were fed, clothed and showered on a semi-regular basis, and you kept them hid from society, the institution met their legal requirements; they (begrudgingly) satisfied most parents and guardians who placed them in their care, and society didn’t have to face the dilemma of what to do with such oddities.

As a child, I was treated to a rare outing to see my learning challenged cousin; and as the older cousins and adults were allowed visitation privileges with her; I, along with another younger cousin, was relegated to watching her rhythmically rock back and forth and wave to us from an upstairs front window; while we innocently waved back to her from the front lawn below.

The sadness and powerlessness that I felt then, I felt, once again; when discovering how my older friend was hosed down, in the shower stall, at the elder care facility years ago.

Only this time, I was an adult….a young adult, but an adult with a voice, so I was able to voice my concern and displeasure with my friend’s treatment to the appropriate authorities.

I was never able to intervene on my cousin’s behalf before she died, and for that I am so sorry – so very, very sorry.

But I never forgot her and never forgot the quiet rage that I felt as she was paraded in front of that spotted, dirty window and blankly stared at us; while she slowly and dutifully waved her hand back and forth.

I don’t know why I became a Special Ed. Teacher.

I haven’t a clue.

I would like to think that somehow my cousin influenced me from above and that my years advocating and fighting for learning challenged kids somehow had something to do with Karen.

But I honestly can’t say.

I truly don’t know.

Would be nice to think that I dedicated my teaching career to her memory.

Would certainly make for a heartfelt story.

But that’s not the truth.

The truth is – I don’t know.

What I do know, is that, like Lily Tomlin, Jane Alexander, Amy Schatz; and a host of other dedicated, caring individuals that love elephants; I can’t idly sit here and not speak out against something so wrong and vile, that it makes my stomach churn and heart weep.

As a society, we cannot continue to patronize businesses and shows that allow for the ongoing abuse and inappropriate exhibition of such unique, important creatures, before we hasten their extinction and do irreparable harm to a species that is so important to our global ecology and environment.

They don’t have a voice or a choice, when killed for their husks or captured for our entertainment pleasure, but you and I do. The least that we can do (the very least) is to not patronize businesses that continue to benefit from the exploitation of these beautiful, loving creatures.

Or live with the fact that we assisted in their early demise…

That’s just my opinion, looking at life from my shoes.