Thursday, July 13, 2017

In An Instant

I don’t know if you saw it, but I did. And somehow it changed me.

I was sitting in front of my television watching America’s Got Talent. It was close to the end of the show. A young man came out on stage and introduced himself. He said he was a doctor. He said he practiced family medicine. When asked, he said his name was Brandon Rogers, that he was 29 years old, and that he wanted to sing. And then he started singing a classic, Stevie Wonder’s “A Ribbon in the Sky.” 

The audience loved it. The judges, including Simon Cowell, loved it. I loved it. His voice was beautiful. And then it was silenced and so was the television as the screen went black and an announcement was made saying that on June 11 he was tragically killed in an automobile accident.

The show ended and I got into bed, but I couldn’t stop thinking about him. How lucky he was, I thought, that he got to fulfill his dream. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. Not until I realized how he’d changed me, not until I realized how lucky I was that I got to see him and to hear him sing - and that I was with him when he realized his dream. 

My condolences go to his family, his friends and his patients. And to his parents, thank you for letting AGT share his performance.

Here is a link to his auditon:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


I woke up this morning, opened my eyes, and looked at the clock. When I saw that it was only 6:30, I smiled. Because it is summertime and because I work for a school district, I am off every day. I have no place to go and am in no hurry to get there, which included not going to the see the fireworks on the Fourth of July. I’ve been there. I’ve done that, I kept telling myself until late last Tuesday night when I heard the pop, pop, popping sounds outside. I ran to my window and saw only one. It was red, white, blue and beautiful. Still, that was enough. I was ready to go back to what I had been doing earlier.

By then, and because I will turn seventy-six this summer, I had decided it was time “to practice retirement,” which for me will mean doing only a lot of reading, writing, walking and meditating.

Since the school year ended I have already read six books, including the very powerful An American Requiem by James Carroll and the beautifully worded Let me be Frank with You by Richard Ford. Currently I am reading a World War II story called Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. It is good and I am enjoying a leisurely read, although it is sometimes so good I cannot put it down.

As for writing, I have to confess I haven’t done much lately, primarily because I have recently finished my second book (more about that later). So instead of writing, I am editing – and editing – and editing. I have edited this new book too many times already, although I suspect there is no such thing as too much editing. All I have left to do now is to read the manuscript one more time - out loud and to myself.

I moved recently, a forty-five minute drive away from my previous residence, and forty minutes away from the park with the one-mile track where I used to walk. While out for breakfast one morning, the waitress told me about a park that is close to my house. But alas, she said it is a track that is only three-quarters of a mile. Perfect! That leaves plenty of time for meditation, which I usually do in the evening, but sometimes outdoors, on the back porch, while listening to the birds or to wind chimes.

So yes, summertime and “practicing retirement” can be exhausting (see Au Revoir Paris at, it can also be exhilarating. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Au Revoir #Paris!

Soon we will be closing the window in our hotel room in order to begin our journey out of France and back to Germany. Through this window the sounds of Paris rushed toward us - the relentless shrill of traffic which began anew each time the light below turned green, the intermittent ringing of church bells, the hammerings of men working in the church across the street, and the voices of humans calling out to one another.

For me, Paris has been brutish. In two days we climbed the heights of the Basillica of the Sacred Heart; witnessed the graceful lines of Arc de Triomphe, the splendor of Versailles, the incomparable grandeur of the Lourve and the beauty of Notre Dame. We ate somewhere along the Champ Elysees. We sailed along the river Seine and walked across its bridges. We rode buses and subways and trains. But most of all we walked.

For miles we walked until my feet felt both swollen and deformed. We walked until my side and my chest hurt so much it became too difficult to breathe, and I thought I would die here in this beautiful, ancient city which seemed at times to be angry with its residents and with its hordes of invading tourists who take so much and leave so little.

But now it is time for us to leave. Au revoir Paris. I salute you, if for nothing else, for your ability to endure and to keep moving forward - through time and war, passed the capriciousness and greed of humans and through the sometimes illogical and seemingly inconsistent love of the God or gods who conceived of you.
It is time for us to leave. Au revoir Pari, until we will meet again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In Celle

I am in Germany. This is probably my fifth or sixth trip to Germany and I am happy to say that for me it has lost all of its “foreignness.” I love it here. I am, after all, both visiting my son (who lives here) and on vacation.
Today we are in Celle, a tiny town north of Hanover. At this moment I am sitting on a park bench outside the castle where King George I of England (from the House of Hanover) exiled his beautiful wife, Sophie Dorothea, because she was having an affair with (a really good looking) count named von Konigsmarck. In reality however, Sophie Dorothea did not initiate her affair until after her husband abandoned her.

Celle is such a beautiful old town. Much of its history and many of its half-timbered architectural style buildings date back more than 700 years. PS. That's me standing in the middle of the picture.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Can't Wait for Summer

I have only one more day of driving before I hang up my school bus keys for the summer. Last year, I was as excited and delighted as I am now. But last year, after I backed my bus into its parking spot and turned off the ignition, I started to cry. Not because I was unhappy about leaving, but because I suddenly realized driving my bus was helping me stay connected to someone I lost the year before.   

This year however, I have a lot to look forward to since I’ll be travelling even further than I did last year when I went to Mississippi and Tennessee, where I did research for the book I’m writing, a follow up to my memoir Rude Awakening. This year I am flying to Europe to visit my son in Darmstadt, a city just south of Frankfurt. From there we are heading north to a quaint little town called Celle, where we will visit his wife’s mother, one of the loveliest women I’ve ever met.

I also intend to visit two of my favorite sites - Heidelberg and Lichtenstein. (Did you know that during World War II there was an agreement between the British and the Nazi, one in which the British agreed not to bomb Heidelberg and the Nazi agreed not bomb Oxford?) 

Whenever we’ve gone to Heidelberg in the past, we’ve parked the car and gone down a whole lot of steps, actually descending into the city. Last time we went, we had lunch in a tavern under a great big stained-glass dome that looked and felt like sitting beneath a Tiffany lamp. In Lichtenstein, which is located at the top of a mountain, there is a beautiful old museum and a cafĂ© from which you can look down and see the cars - which look like ants - as they move along the country road below.

Then, while my son returns to work, my daughter and I will be travelling to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Louvre, to walk along the Seine and to drink coffee on the Champs Elysees – a place I’ve read and dreamed about since I was a child. I am so excited!

Then it’s back to the airport in Frankfurt, where I’ve the feeling I’ll be shedding more tears before I return to my  bus once again in September.

Monday, June 6, 2016

On Writing

I read this book, Stephen King’s On Writing, years ago when I started my memoir and now I’ve started reading it again because I knew that reading it would give me the swift kick in the pants I needed to finish my second book. 

I learned a lot from this book. For instance, I learned that Stephen King has a wicked sense of humor. I learned how to spell a word, which despite my Italian heritage, I would never have learned how to spell. Fuhgeddaboutit! (That’s the word!)  And I learned that Stephen King sometimes thinks the way I do (parenthetically!)

But the most important thing I learned how to do while reading On Writing for the second time was to turn off the TV, which I have always turned on in the evening for company and for noise. I’ve been trying to turn it off for ages and finally, at his suggestion, I succeeded.

It’s been five days since I last had it on and I’ve experienced no tremors, no DTs! Just peace and quiet and lots of time for writing and reading. And guess what else I learned. I learned that instead of keeping me company, the TV was actually making me feel more lonely and that reading has the exact opposite effect.

In his book, which is part memoir and part how-to-write guide, Stephen King says that despite being a slow reader  (Really Stephen?!), he manages to read at least 70 books a year. So I’ve decided to challenge myself and see if I can match that. (Game on!)

Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air - A Review

     When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir by Paul Kalanithi who, as an undergraduate with a deep love of both science and literature, sets out to find the “intersection between the mind and the brain,” and who, after becoming a neurosurgeon with only one year of residency left, is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
     Yes, like many other bestsellers of late like Sherwin B. Nuland’s How We Die, and Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, When Breath Becomes Air is a book about dying.  But unlike other books about dying, this one is so lyrical and so unforgettable it is as if, like author-physician Abraham Verghese writes in his Foreward, “Out of his pen he was spinning gold.”
     But don’t take my word for it. Or Verghese’s either. Not when you can take it from the doctor himself, who about the morning of his diagnosis writes:
     “I received the plastic arm bracelet all patients wear, put on the familiar light blue hospital gown, walked past the nurses I knew by name, and was checked in to a room – the same room where I had seen hundreds of patients over the years. In this room, I had sat with patients and explained terminal diagnoses and complex operations; in this room, I had congratulated patients on being cured of a disease and seen their happiness at being returned to their lives; in this room, I had pronounced patients dead…I had even, in moments of utter exhaustion, longed to lie down in this bed and sleep. Now I lay there, wide awake.”

     Then upon hearing the words, “The doctor will be in soon,” he writes: “And with that, the future I had imagined, the one just about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.”
     “In the context of Paul’s diagnosis,” Verghese wrote, “I became aware of not just his mortality but my own.” 
     But if you, as reader, find any of this amazing, it is what Dr. Kalanithi does after his diagnosis (while trying to find "the intersection between hope and acceptance") that will truly amaze you. 
     In When Breath Becomes Air, Dr. Kalanithi will take you with him as he moves toward death with integrity, vulnerability and courage.
     I loved this book. It strengthened my soul and helped me answer the question we must all ask in the face of death: What is it that makes life meaningful?