When I finished college in the mid-70s, jobs were scarce. I searched for months to find employment. Of course, the fact that I was an English major with no discernible or useful skills probably played a small role in my joblessness.
But after eons of fruitless resume-scattering, I received two job offers in the same week.
One job was as manager-trainee for a large discount chain store. The other was a clerk’s position for a nonprofit organization providing services for the elderly.
The retail job was a bit more money, and had that magical seductive word “manager” in the title. I was a college graduate after all! Summa cum laude, even. The no-discernible-skill part was immaterial (to me).
The nonprofit job was the absolute lowest rung on the nonprofit ladder. I would be typing names and addresses on service orders.
But my mother – who you know by now is the wisest person to have ever lived on this planet – said this to me:
“Being a manager in that store probably means that you are expected to be the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave at night. And they will expect you to hire kids who don’t want the job in the first place and fire adults who are already having a hard time making ends meet. But more important than that – the biggest factor on whether you will like a job is whether you will make good friends. If you work for that store, who will you talk to? Who will you have lunch with? But on the other hand, the nonprofit organization is full of well-educated people trying to make a difference in the world. You will be in a low-level position because the other employees have masters’ degrees and lots of experience. Where are you more likely to have good conversations and make lasting friends?”
Mom is a genius and I know I was blessed by God in having her for a mother.
I took the clerk’s position in the nonprofit.
Low-level is the charitable way to put it. This organization existed through a grant from Medicare. Their offices were above a liquor store (which turned out to be convenient, actually, as we would run down for a few bottles of wine on Friday nights, and spend an hour or two “unwinding”). For the first two months I worked there, I didn’t even have a desk or chair, as they were waiting for their next fiscal year allotment. I would just plop myself down at the desk of a nurse or social worker who was out visiting clients, and when they would return, I find another empty space, which sometimes meant the floor, which was okay if I was filing, but not a good idea for typing.
But anyway, it was the best career choice EVER. And not just because they paid for my MBA, which they did, and I got a raise as well as a desk and a chair eventually. No. It was my best career choice because to start out in business by learning Compassion is about the best possible way to start anything.
Our program used Medicare funds to pay for services that were not then authorized by Medicare, and I am proud to say we provided information to Medicare that paved the way to better coverage. Our nurses and social workers would assess the individual needs of our elderly clients and authorize service that were right for them, with the ultimate goal of keeping the elderly independent and in their own homes for as long as possible.
For example, we found that many people ended up in nursing homes because they could no longer go get groceries or cook meals. Bringing them Meals-On-Wheels may have been all the assistance they needed. We also authorized dental care, homemakers, medical equipment. And we were the first Medicare program to cover prescription drugs.
The services we provided made me proud to work there. And my co-workers taught me so much about kindness and respect that it made me a better person for the next forty-plus years.
The Executive Director was Joan Quinn, a geriatric nurse. She was intelligent and practical. Funny and resolute. There was no better person from whom to learn not only Compassion but how to be a good person and a good boss. If you want to learn how to work with kindness and respect, learn from a nurse.
Oh yes, I learned about business and budgets and accounting and grant-writing and record retention, and all those technical skills that go into office work. But much more important, I learned how to treat people; how to love people you barely know
Especially, I learned how to Listen. Elderly people are often isolated and lonely. They would call us, ostensibly to discuss a medical bill, but mostly just to hear another voice. Ms. Quinn taught us all to listen, to be patient no matter how busy we were. “Talk to them. Give them you full attention for a few minutes. Don’t be so quick to say goodbye,” she said.
I learned that the most important determinants of maintaining health was Connection. Our healthiest clients had family – spouses and children and grandchildren. But not everyone is so lucky. Widowed and single people thrived if they had friends. Or if they had pets. A dog or cat is someone to talk to, someone who needs you and motivates you to get up in the morning and get moving.
I also learned that taking an Interest in the outside world is integral in leading the healthiest possible life. Our social workers always asked the clients if they watched the news or read the papers.
And it did not have to be only interest in world events. We always asked about what they watched on TV. And whether it was The Price Is Right or The Waltons, I saw that having something to look forward to is crucial. I learned that television can be a lifesaver for a shut-in. A short while back I wrote that we should not be embarrassed by our tastes, that it should be okay to like what we like. This is where I learned this.
I also found that people did not all fall into one stereotype of Old Age. People keep their Individuality. And that individuality is to be respected. I can remember Ms. Quinn scolding a nurse who was pressuring an 85-year-old man to give up his unhealthy diet. “That guy lived 85 years eating fried eggs and sausage and pepperoni. Who are you to tell him it’s bad for him? You should live so long!”
One of my favorite memories is of a terrible snowstorm we had one February. Our normal Meals-On-Wheels service was suspended, but all of us who managed to get to the office spent the morning on the phone, calling every person on the meals program, to ensure that they were okay. Most were. They said they could have a sandwich or they had some leftovers that would suffice. But a few people had nothing to eat without our meals, so we made slippery dangerous trips out to those folks to bring them food. Joan Quinn’s favorite client was a woman well into her nineties, who was blind and a double amputee – who still lived by herself, and quite well, by the way. She was one of those few that had nothing to eat. Joan promised to bring her some lunch. “What would you like?” she asked. And the woman said, “You know what I haven’t had in years? Pizza. How I miss pizza.” And Joan and one of the social workers went over with a large pizza and they had a pizza party in the snowstorm with a blind old woman.
But if people do not homogenize, neither does old age instill any intrinsic nobility simply due to advanced years. Joan Quinn used to remind us that a manipulative or crabby young person will also be a manipulative crabby old person.
Happily, most people are good, and so are most old people.
And we can respect them, honor them, and practice kindness.
And in practicing kindness, some Rules can be broken, I learned.
The chef that prepared our Meals-On-Wheels was one guy who broke the rules out of generosity. Once I was promoted, I handled the administration of some of our services, including Meals. I noticed that one man was receiving double meals. I called the chef and told him that he was not authorized to provide extra meals. “That old guy is hungry,” he said. ‘I don’t care if you don’t pay me, I’m giving him extra.” I paid him.
And here is my own contribution to breaking rules.
I also handled the taxi program, which allowed our clients to take a cab to go to the doctor, or get groceries or do their banking. I phoned one man to arrange a cab to take him to the doctor, and the sweet old guy expressed his gratitude. “It’s hard not driving anymore. I used to have lunch once a week with a few friends.” I called the cab company and told them to give the man a ride to Friendly’s every Wednesday and to write on the bill that they took him to the supermarket.
Years later, by a sheer fortunate coincidence, Joan Quinn and I appeared together on a poster published by the University of Connecticut, celebrating UConn women.
Joan Quinn was being honored for her significant contributions in Geriatrics.
I got a mention because I was an executive at ESPN.
But you know, I’d rather be remembered for letting a old guy have lunch with his friends.
A couple of months ago, for our 25th wedding anniversary, I posted 25 things I love about my husband.
Well, it’s my birthday (What, again?) and I thought I would post 25 things that I love about myself.
But I could only think of five.
#1 My creativity. I love that I can write. I love what I write. I love my blog, my novel, and my manuscript for novel #2. And my occasional poem. Writing gives me joy. Without writing, my life would be less.
#2 My optimism. I love that I see the best in people. I don’t attribute bad intentions. I don’t suspect. I look for the good in everyone and in life. Sometimes I am disappointed. Not often.
#3 My memory. I have an astonishing memory. Not only does that feed my blog with everything that has ever happened – (and see #1 for the embellishment I may give those recollections in order to make good stories) – but it also allows me to sing along in the car to decades worth of music. I can sing to Chubby Checker AND to Pink. I love that.
#4 My womanhood. I am a girly-girl. I love it. I’ve never envied men. Never. I get to wear jewelry and makeup and beautiful colors. And … (a BIG ‘And’ here) … I get to do all kinds of other stuff. I can drive. I can pay bills. I can figure out apps on the computer. I can cook. I can buy a house. I can go to school. I can travel alone. I can walk in high heels. I can protest. I can be an astronaut if I wanted to. Just because I wear mascara does not mean I can’t wear it in space.
#5 My looks. I think I am quite pretty. I would never have said this at 16. Or 26. Or 36, 46. 56. I hated the way I looked. But here I am – 66 today – and I like the way I look. I think there are three reasons why this could happen:
- A) I understand after all these years how to make the most of what I’ve got;
- B) I was always pretty, but I just didn’t recognize it;
- C) I have actually and miraculously gotten prettier as I aged.
In my case, I think the answer is
- D) All of the above.
So okay. That’s five. How come I can come up with 25 things I love about my husband, but only five about myself?
What I need to do this year is to get busy finding more things to love about myself.
Here are the 20 things that in the coming year I am going try to love about me:
- My neck. I’ve always hated it because it was short and thick. I wanted an Audrey Hepburn neck. But you know, I got this neck from my Dad. It worked for him. It holds my head up just fine. I haven’t got time to worry about it anymore.
- My Yoga skills. I’ve been practicing Yoga for 15 years, and I am still in the beginner’s class. I always will be. But who cares? I like Yoga. I don’t have to be good at everything.
- My cooking. Not great. But not bad. I can’t flip an egg, but I can make a fabulous broken egg. Omelettes are delicious.
- My laziness. There are advantages to being lazy. It has kept me from obsessing about housework, for example. And from becoming completely Type-A crazy.
- My voice. Never liked to hear myself. Fast, high, overly dramatic. But maybe, just maybe, it’s part of my uniqueness.
- My bravery. I never thought I was very brave. How I wished I were braver. But I see now that I put myself out there for people to judge every time I write something. That’s sort of brave.
- My dancing ability. My husband hates to dance, so I go to Zumba class. I can’t undulate my butt like some of the women. But I am getting to be a sexy dancer. Sexy. Me. Sexy.
- My clothes-folding talent. I can fold clothes like Marie Kondo. I don’t always do it. But I can.
- My introversion. There have been times when I wished I was more outgoing. But I like my alone time. I like the quiet. I like my own company.
- My eclectic taste. I like opera and hiphop. I like Monet and The Far Side. I like “The West Wing” and “Say Yes To The Dress”. I like “My Dinner With Andre” and “Airplane!” I like Wordsworth and Billy Collins. I won’t let my lesser tastes embarrass me.
- My small breasts. I’m in my sixties. I don’t sag.
- My happiness with small things. I’m pleased with a new lipstick. With a pen that writes beautifully. With potato chips.
- My artistic ability. My paintings aren’t awe-inspiring. But they aren’t awful either. When I was sixteen my parents surprised me with a set of oil paints, brushes, and canvasses. They thought I was good enough for the good stuff. I will believe them.
- My teeth. Years ago a friend told me I had weird teeth. A few years later a boyfriend asked whether I wore braces as a kid, because my teeth were so perfect. My teeth are neither weird nor perfect. But the ones in front (the ones that show) are pretty straight.
- My pickiness. I refuse to be ashamed that there’s stuff I don’t want to eat. I am a grown-up now. I get to choose. I do not have to eat what I don’t like.
- My skin. Not just my complexion, which despite some age spots, is pretty good. All my skin. It’s lovely. Smooth, soft. It keeps my insides in.
- My sense of style. It’s magnificent. And so is everyone else’s.
- My ability to forgive. I don’t hold a grudge. I don’t stay mad. I usually don’t even get mad. I don’t even have a resting bitch face.
- My sense of humor. I can make myself laugh. I can make everyone laugh. I cheer people up. Lately, this is a precious gift.
- My family. This is a big one. The older I get the more I love my mother, my sisters and my brother. And everyone else I am related to, by birth or by marriage. They are loving and kind. They are mine. And they like me the way I am.
Each year on my birthday, I post an unretouched photo of myself. Its purpose is twofold:
To say to the world, “Aging isn’t so bad.”
And to say to Mother Nature, “Aging may not be bad, but I’m not going down without a fight!”
Today is no exception. This photo is not retouched in any way. I did, however, take advantage of some very nice natural light.
Here I am – 66 today!
I’m trying to concentrate on Kindness this year.
Practicing Kindness is pretty easy when you are being appreciative to those you love or considerate to benign strangers. Holding the door for someone with an armload of packages or buying a treat for your spouse is a piece of cake… (literally, if that is the treat you are buying).
But practicing Kindness when you don’t feel like it takes a little more effort.
But often, it is only a little more effort. Really.
Look at it this way: Say you have a bad cold. You are lying on the sofa, binge-watching “Say Yes To The Dress” and feeling really miserable. But you have cold medicine in the bathroom. Sure, you feel awful. You don’t want to get up to fetch the cold pills.You want to stay on the sofa. And you don’t want to miss this bride who will surely buy the see-through, low-cut, tight-in-the-ass, over-budget wedding gown for her religious ceremony. But you wait for a commercial, and groan your way to the bathroom and take the pills. Oh, it was a huge effort. You almost collapsed halfway to the bathroom. But twenty minutes later, that tantrum-throwing bride has bought the stupid gown, and you are feeling a little better. It was worth it.
So about Kindness when you don’t feel like it: Get off the couch.
Here are a few uncomfortable kindnesses I have practiced that you might want to consider. I am not listing these as a self-congratulatory pat on the back. I’m bringing them up in order to demonstrate with concrete examples that it really isn’t that hard. Because I am as lazy, petty, and self-absorbed as anyone I know (maybe with one powerful exception) – and I can do it. If I can, so can you.
*1 Say hello to people you’d really rather ignore. Most of us have reason to visit a nursing home once in a while. And in the corridor are lots of old, sick people in their wheelchairs, mostly staring at their hands and waiting for nothing. They are difficult to look at sometimes. It’s much easier to walk faster, and get to where you are going. Don’t do that. Slow down. Say hello to some of these people.Stop at just a couple of wheelchairs. Smile. Look at some faces. You may be the only visitor they have that day.
*2 Give some attention to the kids you dislike. We all have them. Not our own kids of course, but the children of our relatives and friends. It’s not a crime to say that there are children we just don’t care for. Some kids are bratty or whiny or shrill or just not your cup of tea. It’s easy to focus on the kids who are cute and funny and charm the pants right off of you every time. But once in a while, try to talk to one of the whiny kids. Listen to them. Hug them. Problem children are still children. They can use a little attention.
*3 Compliment someone you aren’t friends with. I wrote earlier that I was petty. That could be a slight understatement. When I don’t especially like someone, I tend to see only the negative about them. I have a mean-spirited (but human) propensity to resent their successes and revel in their failures. But sometimes your enemies wear nice clothes, or have good ideas, or even get promoted. It’s horrible but it happens. Think about congratulating a rival the same way you’d congratulate a friend.
*4 Keep a gift you don’t like. I’m not talking about something expensive. If someone gives you a very valuable gift you dislike, you should certainly be honest and not allow that person to have wasted his money. But for inexpensive, insignificant presents? Don’t return everything that is not your taste. And I don’t mean that you should say “Thank you” and put it in a drawer. Would it be so hard to use something that wouldn’t be your first choice? The mugs from Aunt Mary with frogs playing hopscotch? You could actually drink coffee out of them once in a while and think, “These are from Aunt Mary, who taught me how to crochet.” And I know I have always said that you should only buy what you love. And I meant it. But a present that you didn’t choose yourself? Like the blouse your husband bought you with the weird print. Wear it out to dinner once in a while. It won’t kill you.
*5 And for crying out loud, these days, stop crying out loud. You do not have to argue with everyone whose opinions you don’t share. I am not saying that you shouldn’t stand up for yourself. Of course you should. But pick your battles. Last week I was viciously attacked on Twitter. You could even say that I was threatened. I certainly felt threatened. I disagreed with a total stranger. A third party stepped in and threatened me. I can fight for what I believe, but arguments with people I don’t know and will never convince are a waste of energy. I am not saying that it was my fault that I was threatened. It was the fault of that nasty person. But I had nothing to gain and I argued anyway. I should have let it pass. And even more, I should – once in a while – listen. And you too. Every now and then, listen to someone you disagree with. Listen. And then say, “I understand why you feel that way.” Do not add a “…but” to that sentence.
“I understand why you feel that way.”
I recently wrote about some small joys that help me get through my worrisome days. One in particular I wrote about was my Zumba lady – a woman who dances with abandon (and a totally different rhythm than the music might seem to indicate). She is so wonderfully happy when she dances that she makes me wonderfully happy too.
This got me to thinking about all the people that come into your life and make you happy. You often don’t even know their names. And they may only make your life better for a minute or so. But those minutes all add up And you never forget them.
We should celebrate those unforgettable strangers.
Here are a few of the many people who have made my life happier:
A garbage man. A few weeks ago, the garbage truck was headed down my mom’s street, and the driver saw my 93-year-old mother struggling to pick up the newspaper. She was leaning on a cane and trying to bend low enough to get the paper without losing her precarious balance. He stopped the truck, got out and picked up her paper and brought it to the porch for her. Not only do I appreciate the kindness, but also the laugh he gave me when my mother told me this story. She said, “What a nice man, but tell me, how bad must I look?”
Speaking about getting old, one day in the supermarket, a very old lady approached me in the shampoo aisle. She said she needed more body for her hair, and asked me to help her choose a styling product. She said, “You are so pretty, I figured you would know the best products.” I am not especially pretty, but I felt beautiful that day, thanks to that sweet woman. And on days where I feel especially unpretty, I remember that some people think I look fine.
Although that woman was nice to me personally, sometimes, like the garbage man who stopped to pick up my mother’s paper, people who help others make me happy.
Like the EMT who came when my sister broke her ankle. She was in Vermont and suffered a very bad break in a weird little accident. She was in a lot of pain, the bone sticking out exposed, and it was a very small town, and all she wanted to do was come home. And in the ambulance, the EMT saw how nervous my sister was. He said that Vermont may not exactly have the most sophisticated medical care in the world, but… “Skiing. We have skiing.. we understand broken bones really well.” She was reassured. I am so thankful that he was there to say just the right thing.
We owe medical folk a lot, come to think of it. I’ve seen nurses hold my dad’s hand. Lab technicians who distract my husband with humor so that he doesn’t faint during a blood draw, a doctor who helped me significantly just by saying, “I believe you.”
And veterinarians. Over the Thanksgiving holiday a few years ago, we were faced with the horrible decision all pet owners must face. Our 21-year-old cat was suffering terribly. And given the holiday, our vet was not around. I called another doctor, and we brought him poor old Merlin. I don’t even remember the vet’s name but he was kind and sensitive and gently helped Merlin over to his next life.
Sometimes the medical help isn’t even from a professional. When my dad was in a nursing home, the guy in the next bed was a youngish man. I didn’t know his story – what was wrong with him or why he was there. But he told me once that when my father was restless at night, he would play his guitar and it would calm my dad.How lucky my father was to share his room with such a man.
And when my father was dying at Christmas time, the accounting staff of the nursing home took down the tree in their office and set it up in my father’s room.
Then there are people you don’t even know who help you – in powerful, life-changing ways.
I had many friends working in our New York office on 9/11. Several banded together to try to walk out of the city. After walking a long way, they found a cab, and convinced the driver – this wonderful man – to take all of them home to Connecticut. Sure, they paid the cabbie well. But I often think about how frightened the cab driver was too, and how much he must have wanted to be with his own family. But he took everyone home first.
And another man may have saved my life. I was returning from a business trip and my plane was very late. I arrived in the middle of the night to a very deserted airport. I boarded the shuttle bus to the long-term parking lot and the driver of the bus immediately closed the door behind me. He started talking very scary stuff about how we were meant to be alone together. I was terrified. Suddenly another man started banging on the bus door. He banged and banged and finally the bus driver opened the door. The man got on and the driver drove to the remote parking lot. The driver kept asking the guy where his car was parked. The man looked at me. He SAW. He said, “I can’t remember. Bring the lady to her car first.” He said it over and over. And he stood at the door of the bus while I got into my car. He stood there and watched me drive safely away. Somehow, this man who came out of nowhere knew I was in trouble, and he saved me.
Thank you, all you nice acquaintances and kind strangers. My life is better because of you.
In tribute to the amazing Mary Tyler Moore, here’s a post from 2 years ago. She always made me laugh, and that’s about as nice a compliment as you can get. Thanks, Mary.
I read the other day about a person having an inappropriate case of the giggles. And oh my, a memory jumped up and yelled, “You despicable person, you!”
You – in this case – meaning:
Do you remember the old Mary Tyler Moore episode about Chuckles the Clown? The station’s resident clown was the grand marshall of the circus parade. He wore his Peter Peanut costume, and in a bizarre twist of fate, was shelled to death by a rogue elephant. All the guys at the studio could not resist making terrible jokes, and Mary was appalled at their lack of decorum. Of course, their laughs had played out by the time of the funeral, and they were properly respectful, and it was Mary herself who came down with uncontrollable, ill-timed laughter.
That episode was one of the funniest things I had ever seen on TV.
Until of course I had a similar experience.
At least the occasion wasn’t tragic. I have that excuse, at least.
It was 1986, and I was working in the cable television business. I was based in Connecticut and my boss, Rick, the regional Finance V.P., was based in Virginia. I liked working for him very much. (and not only because it is sweet to have a boss 324 miles away.) He was an intelligent man with impeccable manners. Incidentally, he had a stutter.
We were interviewing companies in order to change credit card processors. Rick came up from Virginia. A very nice man came in from Omaha to pitch his organization’s service. He was smart and friendly and well-prepared. He also had a stutter.
There were six of us in the meeting. We had no conference room in our offices, so we had just pulled chairs around in a circle in the largest office. I sat between my boss and Jim, the credit card company sales rep.
The meeting was productive and cordial, but gradually I became aware that the more that Rick and Jim talked, the more they seemed to have some kind of synergistic effect on their respective stutters. It was almost as if each man’s stutter encouraged the other’s.
Rick had difficulty with W. “W-w-w-when w-w-will w-w-we sign the contract?”
And with Jim, he stumbled over B. “B-b-but b-b-both of us can b-b-buy some time.”
Sitting between them, I listened to these two smart, nice gentlemen:
I liked and respected these guys. I have stutterers in my own family. It’s fine. It never bothers me. And I am a good polite person.
It happened anyway.
I was overcome with the giggles.
I tapped my foot. I covered my mouth and pretended to yawn. I pinched myself. scribbled in my notebook.
I coughed. My shoulders shook.
Eventually, I started to cry.
“E-e-e-excuse me,” I managed to stammer (yeah, it’s catchy). “I have something in my eye.”
And I ran to the ladies’ room and laughed myself silly. Then I composed myself and rejoined the meeting.
A few days later, I was out for a drink with a co-worker who was also at the meeting.
“Did you find it hard to sit in that meeting, and not laugh?” I asked.
“NO!” My friend said, horrified. “OF COURSE NOT! What is wrong with you?”
Oh, I am a terrible person.
“A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”
In focusing on the small joys of life, there is no doubt about the delight I get in hearing a sparkling, happy song. All I need is to hear “I’m A Believer” or “Walking On Sunshine” or The Rascal’s “Good Lovin'” and my butt starts bouncing and I’m set for the day.
However – there is also something wonderfully comforting about a heart-wrenching sad song.
I love a song that can bring tears to my eyes.
When I was a little kid, I had no understanding of romantic love and heartbreak, but there were still sad emotions that I could identify with.
I think the first song that really moved me was Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry” in 1960. I was nine. Although I didn’t identify with lovers’ quarrels, I certainly could understand how it feels to do something wrong. To know something is your fault and to feel terrible. And in this way, I “got” the song. And to this day, I love hearing it.
Even a child can truly feel the emotion of loneliness. I had the most amazing, happy family a kid could have, but even the thought of losing them was a terrifying idea. Bobby Vinton’s “Mr.Lonely”– a soldier, alone and frightened – could bring me to tears when I was eleven, and it still can today.
That same year, I also had my first inkling of the painful side of romantic love. Not because I had any experience at all, but because the emotion was so raw and so clear that even a child could feel the heartbreak. It was “You Don’t Know Me” by Ray Charles. “You give your hand to me. And then you say goodbye. I watch you walk away…” I wanted to shout “Tell her! Tell her you love her!” How I love that song – how I love a song that makes me so filled with empathy.
And of course there is Smokey Robinson with “The Tracks Of My Tears.” Holy cow, that man could write a song. I love all the versions of this song – Smokey’s, Johnny River’s, Linda Ronstadt’s.
And speaking of Linda Ronstadt – Lord, how she can tear at my soul. I’ve been crying over “Long, Long Time” for 47 years.
Another singer who ripped me apart with his plaintive songs was Glen Campbell. In the middle and late sixties, he could always be counted on for the sweet sorrow in his voice – mourning the end of love with “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” or the simple everyday loneliness of “Wichita Lineman.” And most of all, with the lonely and frightened soldier (yes, again) of the heart-wrenching “Galveston.”
There’s something especially poignant for me with songs of soldiers and war if they are individual and personal. I’m not much on the grand global view. The songs that make me cry are the ones that show how war hurts one person, one family. Like in “Galveston” or “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”. And one morning in 2002, my radio clicked on, and the first thing I heard was The Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier” – I lay in bed and felt that little girl cry under the grandstand at the football game. I just played that song again now as I write this, and I am crying again.
Social Consciousness songs can move me too, though like with war songs, the ones that move me are the small, personal heartbreak ones…Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” or Springsteen’s “The Streets Of Philadelphia.”
And of course, there’s Love and the Loss of Love. Now that I am old, and I have felt it for myself – and felt it all around me – the sorrow, regret, and heartache that often accompany love assaults my heart in the best way. There is an eloquence in the best of the sad songs that leaves me wondrously breathless. Some of these songs I love to cry to include
Carly Simon- “That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be”
Jim Croce – “Operator”
The Eagles “You Get The Best of My Love”
Dusty Springfield “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”
Toni Braxton – “Unbreak My Heart”
Little Texas – “What Might Have Been”
Bonnie Raitt – “I Can’t Make You Love Me”
R.E.M. “Everybody Hurts”
Hootie and the Blowfish – “Let Her Cry”
Adele – “Someone Like You”
And, Oh my God, not romantic love, but a father’s love, in Kelly Clarkson’s “Piece By Piece.”
I wish there was a better word than ‘cathartic’. Maybe ‘Purifying’ will work.
There is a certain purifying joy in the perfect sad song.
Watch this and cry. You will feel a lot better.
I have done a grave disservice to the honorable, reliable, unpretentious Sandwich.
I realized this yesterday at Costco.
One of my favorite activities at Costco is looking at everyone else’s cart and trying to invent the person’s story by what they buy. It’s easier to do this at a warehouse store rather than the supermarket, because when people buy in BULK – their real personality shines through like Tom Cruise’s teeth on the red carpet.
There’s nothing like 12 chickens to give me a whole chapter for a sci-fi novel. Or 48 rolls of toilet paper. Or the old guy with bags and bags of onions.
Anyhow… (Have you ever noticed how many sentences I begin with “anyhow”? That is my Tell…. my obvious sign that I am bringing myself back around to the topic after I’ve meandered away just for my own entertainment.)
So anyhow, yesterday at Costco, besides the chicken-laden shopping cart and the geezer that had need of 77 onions, there was a lady with two huge bags that each held 24 small pack-in-your-lunch-size bags of potato chips. Her obvious story is that she’s got three kids and so she’ll have lunch for the kids for the next 3 weeks. Her less obvious story is that she’s got 24 kids, and so she only has 2 days’ worth of lunchbox chips. Her even lesser obvious story is that she likes to feed ducks and she wants the ducks to each get their own bag.
Anyhow, that’s how I started to feel all kinds of guilt over my neglect of the simple sandwich.
Because all through high school, I had one of those little bags of potato chips in my lunch. My sandwich lunch.
I don’t eat many sandwiches now… carbs, cold cut sodium… all that shit. But the truth is: I love sandwiches.
And I wrote recently of my deep and abiding love for Reuben sandwiches.which was not fair. Because oh my God, simple sandwiches are so wonderful too.
I love peanut butter and jelly, I love salami, I love liverwurst, I love egg salad. I love veal loaf, ham, turkey, bacon, bologna – all kinds of sandwiches.
At our house, lunches for the next day were prepared after dinner. With supper all cleaned up, my mother would take out the sandwich fixings. Bread, mayo, mustard, cheese – and the main ingredient – cold cuts or tuna salad.
And of course little bags of potato chips. And a Yodel. My brother liked RingDings, but I liked Yodels… my Mother used to buy the Yodels one week, and the RingDings the next.I am proud to say, I suffered through the RingDings for my little brother’s sake. I only have a mild case of PTSD as a result.
Anyhow, no one can make a neater sandwich than Mom. I feel sorry for kids today, with their stupid flimsy little baggies with sandwiches that slosh around in there, slowly falling apart. Back in the sixties, we didn’t have little baggies. We had waxed paper.
You could press autumn leaves in waxed paper, using an iron, if you were really careful (and if your mother didn’t catch you doing it.) But the main purpose of waxed paper was to wrap wonderful sandwiches.
My mom was a nurse, and she had years and years of practice making neat hospital corners on the bed sheets, and her sandwich wrapping was as good as it gets. Her sandwiches were so perfect, it was like you got a sweet little Christmas present every day.
Mom would make several perfect sandwiches. She bought little brown bags by the hundred, and she’d put a sandwich, a bag of chips, a Yodel (if I was lucky) and perhaps a piece of fruit in each bag.
And she would label each bag with an initial. “M” for Mom, “D” for Dad, “T” for Tommy and “N” for Nancy. (My two sisters were both “Cs”, which would have been confusing, but they were in college, and so were way above a lunch bag.) Sometimes all the bags held exactly the same thing, but my mother would put an initial on each one anyway.
I loved all my sandwiches. But my favorite – by far – was tunafish. How I loved (and still love) a tunafish sandwich with a side of potato chips.
Now I don’t know whether mayonnaise was a lot more stable fifty years ago, or whether we were just hardier, tougher kids, but no one worried about the tuna salad spoiling. I would put that lunch bag in my purse at 7 A.M., and would eat it as late as 1 P.M. I never got poisoned. It seemed liked the longer you carried your tuna sandwich, the better it tasted – like the bread and the tuna melded as one.
And that waxed paper… why you didn’t even need a plate, because that paper unfolded to the nicest little placemat you can imagine.
Thinking about high school lunch – why it was just absolutely the best part of high school. I’d meet up with Patti and Karen and Chris and Mary and sometimes Charlene or Barbara…depending on the day of the week, and we’d all have our little brown bags. Some days we ALL had a tunafish sandwich. We’d each buy a little carton of milk. We would watch the girls at the popular table. We’d talk about boys and teachers and The Rolling Stones. All over the cafeteria were kids all talking at once… and either eating the school lunch – like Sloppy Joes – or tuna sandwiches. The noise was incredible. (not the eating – the hollering)
Not all of high school was nice. But boy, lunchtime was nice. Those sandwiches were nice.
As I said earlier, I don’t each much bread anymore (which is kind of a shame, because I am quite a good baker of bread), but every once in a while, I MUST have a sandwich. Most often I will have peanut butter and jelly, because it is so easy – and tasty. And sometimes when I visit my Mom, we’ll have sandwiches. Mom always has good cold cuts – and she always always always has good bread. Mom is a connoisseur of bread.
And on very special days for hubby and me, I take out the tuna (two cans of tuna because the dog and both cats come running as soon as they hear that swoosh of the can opener) and the mayo, and the potato chips (which I buy only for company, but pray all the time they are visiting that they don’t eat them all) – and I have the most fabulous lunch, accompanied not only by the chips but by the best memories ever.
I am trying very hard not to freak out (at best) or have a total mental collapse (at worst) over the state of our country. I worry. I want everything to work out. I feel powerless.
I do a little in the political realm, but not much. Because I fear an impending total mental collapse – on either my part (at best) or on the part of someone much much more important (at worst).
I donate to causes I believe in. I support others in their much braver efforts.
But I’m not brave. The author Wally Lamb just posted a short essay on Facebook where he argues with himself about voicing his political opinions. He feels he needs to say something, do something, stand up for what he believes in. But his lesser self knows that it could cost him. People may not buy his books. He could lose his audience. But he cares about the country. He wants to do the right thing. He won’t stay quiet if he needs to speak out.
And I’m not even that brave. I’m not sure if I have more at stake or less. A struggling writer like me needs every single book sale. I can’t afford to offend anyone. On the other hand, what do I really have to lose? I’m not making money writing anyway (although I hope to).
But I do love you guys who read my blog. I don’t want you to go away.
But I have noticed the strangest, most amazing thing.
Because I am not brave, and because I am freaking out, I have tried to calm myself by writing little posts about nice things. Reminding myself of the many little happinesses that I experience every day. I make myself notice them. How can I not feel better when I have a perfect cup of coffee or my own washing machine?
And here is the amazing part. In trying to make myself feel better, I think I may be making you feel better too. Because I have seen a significant increase in subscribers to my blog since November – the likes of which I haven’t seen in quite a while.
Perhaps you too are looking for some small things to feel happy about?
So anyway. Until I am blessed with a stroke of bravery, I am concentrating on the simple joys of everyday life.
It was 57 degrees (Farenheit, for those of you not in the US) – amazingly warm for Connecticut. How nice is that, after I’ve been walking the dog on 9 degree mornings?
So we took our walk – Theo and I. And it was Muddy. With a capital M. Oh what a mess! And what heaven for the pup. There was not a mud puddle he didn’t stomp in. It was so much fun and so awful at the same time. When we returned, I marched him right into the shower. Our guest bedroom has a handicapped-accessible shower, so it was easy to get him in. Also easy for him to jump out. Did I mention that I cleaned that shower and the floor and the walls just yesterday? But what the hell… mopping up is not that hard. And Theo even submitted to the blow dryer (for a few minutes anyway), so he didn’t get on the sofa soaking wet. And he smells good.
Then (after I cleaned up my own wet-doggy smell) I had lunch with my mother. This is always the highlight of my week. My mom – who I write about constantly – is 93, and I love her more than anyone in the world. She’s so smart and so funny. The garbage man got out of his truck the other day to pick up her newspaper for her, and she said to me, “How nice was that! But how bad must I look?”
And Mom gave me mints and Hershey kisses for my purse. She always does. Because she loves me.
Then I went to the makeup store and picked up my eyeliner. I love my liner, but it’s one of those automatic pencil types. Not the sharpen-and-watch-it-get-smaller type. So you never really know when you will run out. And that would be bad. I thought I might be in the danger zone, so I picked up another. And the facial cleanser I like was on sale. Buy one, get one half off. So now I have one for the sink and one for the shower. I don’t have to carry the tube all the way across the bathroom anymore! How great is that?
I came home to a happy nice-smelling doggie, and got myself ready for Zumba.I wore my favorite outfit. Tight gray leggings and a swingy long top with an elephant design on the front. I can really Zumba when I am wearing something pretty.
And guess who was at Zumba? One of my favorite ladies, although I don’t even know her name. She comes once in a while and dances in the back of the room.She’s fabulous. She dances faster than the beat with enormous leaping energy and big, big steps… most of which she makes up herself. The look on her face is always that of Pure Joy. I see her behind me in the mirror – dancing a completely different dance than the other people in the room – and the happiest person there. I can’t stop smiling while I dance the teacher’s version.
And then, on the way home – a minor miracle. I have an old car that I love. It’s a BMW X5 SUV -(I really miss cars with names though, don’t you? Impala. Mustang. Even Beetle. They told you what they were by their names. But X5 – What the heck is that?) Well, it takes driving one to know, but what the X5 is – is a sweetheart with power. Now it’s a 2001 with 185,000 miles, so it has its quirks and we’ve had to sink a sizable wad into it recently. But I love it. And the seat heaters still work – which is like my car loves me and wants me to have a nice warm ass. But anyway, here’s my miracle – minor though it may be. There were a few sporadic raindrops coming down when I left Zumba. The delay action on the windshield wipers is also sporadic. Meaning, mostly it doesn’t work. But the wipers did work tonight. A swipe, a delay, a swipe. Okay cool. Then I hit the highway and the rain suddenly picked up, or rather, picked down. It started to rain really hard. And my wipers stepped up to the plate. Automatically, they just started going, swipe, swipe, swipe. The rain sensor on my old car hasn’t worked in maybe six years. And tonight, it worked.
My wipers were sort of like Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker” – They remembered water. They remembered what to do! “Wah-Wah” my wipers said.
I may not be brave. I may not be the best Zumba dancer.
But I am the Annie Sullivan of car windshield wipers!
I had cause recently to reflect on how easy my life is.
And I don’t mean compared to women centuries ago…although surely that is beyond question. Why, I remember watching episodes of “Wagon Train” as the settlers made their way out west – (I don’t think they ever got there, by the way.. I think they went around in big circles for like eight years) – and thinking, “Where do those women go to the bathroom?” Although around year seven, I was also thinking, “How in heck do those women handle their periods?”
Of course, I have it better than the women of olden times.
I mean I am doing better than even:
My life is so much easier than it used to be.
What caused me to reflect on my easy life was this: I was waiting in the car for my husband, who had run into the supermarket for eggs. And next door to the market is a laundromat. And a young woman came out with a basket heaping with clothes. She balanced it precariously on her hip as she struggled to open her car door.
Oh yeah. I’ve been there.
Going to the laundromat is unpleasant, boring, and sometimes even scary.
And not only did I do it when I was a young adult trying to make it on my own, I did it as a teenager.
When I was 15, my parents moved into a wonderful new house, and that was the moment that the washing machine decided to quit. My parents had to wait until their finances were a little more settled to replace the machine, so we had to use the laundromat. After supper at least once a week, my mother would drive me to the laundromat with baskets of dirty clothes, a bag of quarters, and my homework – and leave me there. She had other things to do – with a large family and a job. This was 1966: there was no entertainment in a laundromat – no TV; cell phones were on “Star Trek” only. If you were lucky at the laundromat, someone might have a static-y radio and taste that was not completely horrible. I did my homework and ran three washers at once, and then the dryers, and tried not to pay attention to the sometimes unique people who wandered in and out. A few hours later my mother would show up, and we’d load up the car and go home. How I hated it.
But you know… it wasn’t impossible. People still do that, as I saw the other day. I could do it again if I had to. But how sweet it is not to have to. I have my own washer and dryer. Down the hall. Appliances that get their own little room!
We’ve all got lots of reasons to be worried in 2017. We see and hear about them every day. I don’t need to remind anyone or frighten myself any more than I already am.
So I am concentrating this year on good things.
This week I am reminding myself of all the little luxuries I have – things that I know I could live without, and that many people do live without – that make life easier.
I remember, for example, being stuck in a traffic jam driving home from work in 1984. In a car with no air conditioning. In July. And this scenario repeated itself dozens of times that summer. For me and for lots of folks. Not moving in a stifling car is a bad way to unwind after work. It wasn’t torture though; I survived. And now we just click on the air and wait comfortably in traffic. And yet we complain.
And speaking of cars: How about being broken down by the side of the road at night? Hoping that someone who is not a serial killer will stop to help you. And having no way to tell anyone that you are stuck. Thank you, cell phones.
And more of the things that I know I could survive without, but that help make my life just a bit easier and sweeter:
Cable, DVR, Netflix
Disposable contact lenses
Power lawn mowers and snow throwers
Salad in a bag
Heated car seats
About two years ago, a friend hurt my feelings.
This was not a close friend – since those friends and family whom we love are usually more sensitive to our sensitivities. Not that a loved one cannot hurt you, but I think it is rarer. Unless of course, they don’t really love you at all. Then you need to reflect on why your closest companions would not be kind to you.
But I digress, as I usually do. Of course, my dearest friends indulge me in this. That’s one reason why I love them so. They may roll their eyes of course, but that is permitted.
No, this was a person who I consider more than an acquaintance but less than a loved one. Many people fall into this category – they’re the folks who know a bit about you and you about them – where they live, what they do for a living, perhaps the name of their spouse or their children, and especially about what you have in common that has made you a friend in the first place. But probably you’ve never actually been in their house or socialized beyond your common interest.
This person who hurt me was one of those. I don’t believe she was being mean or that she deliberately intended to make me feel bad. I think it was one of those careless things. Thoughtless. Not cruel.
This woman made a critical remark about a physical flaw I have that I am sensitive and self-conscious about.
I can easily overlook inconsiderate comments from people who don’t know better. Like someone who recently asked about my children, when I am unfortunately childless. That is not unkind, even though it may be painful to me. It’s not unfeeling; just uninformed.
But this hurtful comment came from someone who knew about my flaw, and described it in a tactless way.
I felt bad. And I felt bad for quite a long time.
I could have ended our small friendship. It wouldn’t have been hard. We see each other occasionally, but there are always plenty of other people around when we meet, and it would be easy to avoid her without shunning her. I could “unfriend” her online. That is a simple keystroke. After all, why would I be friends with someone who hurt my feelings?
But I didn’t. I remained friends. Sometimes you just have to forgive people for their occasional lapses in good manners. Perhaps she was having a bad day. Perhaps she also felt bad after she said it. I know there has been a time or two (or a hundred) when I was sorry that unkind or insensitive words came out of my mouth. She hurt me but didn’t mean to hurt me. That is not so hard to forgive, after all.
And last week, the most amazing thing happened.
This woman, whose words stung enough that I had shed a few tears – this same woman – did me a favor that she didn’t need to do.
She helped me, just out of plain generosity.
If I had ended our friendship, I wouldn’t have received the help I needed. I would have been a little stuck for a little longer.
Keeping her as a friend despite an unkind remark turned out to be a very good thing.
I got the help I needed.
And I got to change my opinion of her from unkind to kind.
She’s nice and it’s nice to know that again.
Forgiveness can be a very practical practice.