Friday, August 16, 2019

Mirrored Images


When my daughter said she wanted to make our annual “Thelma and Louise” road trip to Birmingham this year, I was hesitant – and somewhat paranoid. I hesitated because memories of a city once known as “Bombingham” still lay at the back of my mind. Memories of “Bull” Connor, his hoses, his dogs, and his cruelty. Memories of four little girls who were murdered by the Klan. I was paranoid, too, because we were making this journey on the Tuesday after the Dayton and El Paso shootings.

All of these things were on my mind as we walked through the entrance of the 16th Street Baptist Church where, in the basement, there were four separate rooms, each with a short film related to the events of 1963. One of them showed how news of the bombing was received around the world. In this documentary, there was a picture of a woman living in a neighboring state, a woman who upon hearing about the bombing wore all of her feelings on every line and angle of her face.


My daughter and I were standing in the rear of the church when suddenly we heard a loud screeching sound followed by a thunderous crash. Shaken, we ran out a side door and saw the remains of a traffic accident. A young man whose truck had been cut off had crashed into a pole. Before I even realized she had moved, my daughter raced down the steps of the church and crossed the street. She stood talking to the young man for a minute, then reached up and gave him a reassuring hug. A few minutes later we were back inside talking to one of the guides, an African American woman who was about the same age as me.

“How can you do this?’ I asked her. “How can you volunteer to be inside here day after day. Aren’t you afraid?”

“Listen,” she replied, “You can live in fear, or you can live.” I couldn’t help but smile at her bravery and her determination.

We left the church then and crossed the street to the Civil Rights Institute where my daughter, overwhelmed by displays of segregation and degradation, broke down and cried. As I walked beside her I realized the displays were all too familiar to me, all of them headlines I saw in my youth. One image, however, a photograph of a young Black man hanging from a tree haunted me and kept me awake for several nights until I returned home and saw another that was eerily similar. It was a photo on my Twitter feed, a photo of two policemen on horseback with a young Black man walking between them. A young man whose hands were handcuffed behind him. A young man who was tethered to one of the horses with a rope.  

While in Birmingham I thought we had come a long way since 1963, but back at home I wasn’t so sure.




Friday, August 2, 2019

A Long Time Ago and a Movie Review


A long time ago, when I was young, I shared an apartment with a friend of mine in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia. The two of us took pride in our ability to meet the rent each month and loved returning to it in the evening after a long day at work, or at school, or both. Looking back now I remember the two of us sitting at the table talking about our day when my friend suddenly said, “I want to go home.”

I looked at her and saw the seriousness of her expression. “I do too,” I said. And then I asked, “Do you mean you want to go home to your parents’ house?”

“No,” she replied. “Do you?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head.

It’s funny, I think, how we both felt it - that desire to go home even if neither of us really knew where home was.

That, however, is not the problem for the main character in the last movie I saw because Jimmie Fails, who plays himself in this film, knows exactly where home is. The movie is The Last Black Man in San Francisco. It’s a movie that builds slowly and sanguinely through the streets and neighborhoods of San Francisco, and at first we’re not really sure where it’s going until we see Jimmie and his best friend Mont staring at an old Victorian house with a tower that "looks like a witch’s hat.”



It’s the house Jimmie’s grandfather built back in 1946. It’s the house Jimmie lived in until he was six when his father lost it. And it’s the house that Jimmie Fails has fallen in love with, the house he returns to often even though its current owner wants him nowhere near it. But when the current owner has to move out, Jimmie moves in, in a move that seems more like a communion than an invasion. It is also the beginning of the end for Jimmie Fails.

I traveled thirty minutes to see this movie on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon and I’m so glad I did because this story is deep, and heavy, and beautiful. It’s a story that reminds us of how much we all long to return home, even when we aren’t quite sure where home is.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco was the winner of two awards at the Sundance Film Festival and is, according to Roger Ebert (and me), “one of the year’s best films.”



Dear Elvis, my story about love and loss, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE






Sunday, June 30, 2019

Pavarotti

I went to see the docu-movie Pavarotti yesterday. The movie is a Ron Howard production, which means it was exquisite.
This movie depicts the singer from his birth into poverty in 1935 to his death in 2007. But what fills this movie, in both background and foreground, from beginning to end, is Pavarotti’s incredible voice – both his singing voice and his speaking voice which is taken from interviews he gave throughout his career. Scenes in the movie highlight his performances from his first role in 1963 as Rodolfo in La boheme (the bohemian), to his 1972 appearance at the Metropolitan Ă“pera House in New York City (where he stunned the audience with “his nine high C’s”), through his many concerts and benefits, and to his last role in Puccini’s Tosca.
In the late 1980’s when the Spanish tenor Jose Carreras was stricken with leukemia, Pavarotti called him and told him to “hurry up and get well” because he needed the competition. The result of that call was the masterful and infamous concert known as The Three Tenors performed during the World Cup Finals in 1990. (I remember seeing that concert on PBS in the early 1990’s, recording it on one of those old VHS tapes, and playing it again and again so that when, during the movie, I heard the first few bars of O Sole Mio, chills went through my entire body.)
In addition to Pavarotti’s interviews the movie is filled with interviews from his colleagues, managers, friends and family, the most poignant of which is the one with U2’s Bono who teaches us more about Pavarotti than anyone else, informing us that Pavarotti didn’t just sing his music, he “lived” it. Indeed, after a relationship he was in ends, the movie shows Pavarotti in his role in Pagliacci as Canio, the clown who had to go on performing and laughing even though his heart was breaking.
I enjoyed this movie. By the end of it, I felt as though I knew Pavarotti, not as Pavarotti, but as “Luciano” - and as a friend. 


Dear Elvis, my story about love and loss, is available at amzn.to/2uPSFtE

Monday, May 27, 2019

On Failing

I often look, during the week, for inspiration to write a post for this blog on the weekend, and I most often find it from the people around me. But this week, when I sat in front of my computer, I was stumped. It’s okay, I thought, you can take some time off. You are, after all, on holiday.
Then, early on Sunday morning as I was driving to an early Mass, I told myself to stay alert and to look carefully at the world around me, and what I saw moving from one side of the road to the other, was first a squirrel, then a rabbit, and finally a bright red cardinal chasing a sparrow.


It was at that point that I laughed and turned on the radio to listen to NPR’s On Being. I was listening for only a few minutes when I realized I was listening to a voice I had heard before, even though I had never heard him speak out loud.
During a brief break, the host, Krista Tippett, introduced her guest as physician-author Abraham Verghese and I smiled when I heard his name because I knew it was he who had written the introduction to one of my favorite books, Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air. (www.tonimccloe.com/2016/05/when-breath-becomes-air-review.html).
Midway through the show, which was about “rethinking success,” Ms. Tippett opened the microphone to the audience and to a young man who asked Dr. Verghese to talk about a time in his life when he felt as though he had failed. Dr Verghese spoke about attending medical school in Ethiopia until a civil war broke out in that country. Feeling “adrift” and as though “it was the worst thing that could’ve happened,” he decided to leave Ethiopia and join his parents in New Jersey where circumstances forced him to work as an orderly.
And I think,” he said, "it was the hardest part of my life.” He said he felt like a failure. “But I look back now, and if I have any sort of reputation in America, I think it’s come from the fact that I got to see what happens to the patient in the 23 hours and 57 minutes that the doctors are not in the room.” (And, if Dr. Verghese has a reputation in this country, it is in part because of his empathy.)
As I listened to Dr Verghese, I wondered what I would list as my biggest failure. Certainly, I realized, there are too many to list, both in life and in my relationships. But like the doctor I’ve learned that failure can lead to success, and I’ve learned, too, to surround myself with friends who inspire and offer encouragement instead of judgment, and trust instead of doubt. 


My memoir, Dear Elvis, can be found at http://amzn.to/2uPSFtE.




Saturday, May 18, 2019

Stay Well, Go Well


I read another book today. It was a book I bought and owned 55 years ago, but never read. I’m glad I read it now. The book was Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, a story about the people – both Zulu and European - of South Africa, and a story about the land itself. 

While reading it, I felt as though I were not reading, but living it, seeing the land all around me and interacting with the characters who inhabit it. All the people were real to me. All their pain was real to me. And, if I ever doubted that there is beauty in simplicity, I know it now. 

The story begins in a remote village in the province of Natal in eastern South Africa when a minister (called umfundisi in Afrikaans) receives a letter summoning him to Johannesburg where his sister has fallen ill. 

After discussing it with his wife, Stephen Kumalo begins his journey to the city where he witnesses the unrest caused by racial and economic disparity and the greed that divides people. In Johannesburg, too, he learns that his son has spent time in a reformatory. In the meantime, a newspaper reveals that a man called Arthur Jarvis, a local white proponent of racial equality, has been murdered in his home during a burglary. Kumalo then learns that his son, Absalom, has been arrested for Jarvis’s murder, and that he has confessed to the crime, and that the victim was the son of a wealthy white man who is his neighbor back in Natal. After Absalom is convicted Kumalo returns to his village. On the night before his son’s execution, he withdraws to a mountain to await the time of his son’s death, and weeps until dawn. 

This image of Natal, which I downloaded from Shutterstock,com, is titled mountain reflection

Cry, the Beloved Country is a story so beautiful and so heartbreaking, I cried. It is also a story written with language as lyrical and as deep as the compassion with which Paton portrays his characters, both black and white.

In South Africa when one companion is leaving another, it is the custom for the departing one to say, Stay well, and for the other to reply, Go well.

Stay well, my Friends.


My memoir, Dear Elvis, can be found at http://amzn.to/2uPSFtE.






Wednesday, May 8, 2019

!!Caffeine!!


The last time I wrote, it was about letting go of something. After she read it, my daughter Cindi, who does all my editing, wrote back:
It’s fine, Mom,” (which wasn’t exactly the praise I was hoping for!) “What are you letting go of?” (shouldn't that be: Of what are you letting go? - But whatever!!)
Caffeine!” I answered.

Lol,” she wrote back.


But it’s true! Everyone has something they want to let go (of?). For me it’s caffeine because after one cupful – actually, one glassful (I don’t drink caffeine in the morning) I’m jittery, and after two glasses, I’m a wreck (to which anyone who’s seen me after lunch can attest).
All of which may sound superfluous to some, but not to me because, as I have recently begun to suspect, it is this addiction that has been keeping me from enjoying something I really want to do in the evening - meditate.
So, what I need right now is someone to hold me accountable, someone to shame me away from the caffeine, and I'm hoping that someone is you!
Oh, and if you are having a similar problem, just let me know and I’ll be happy to blab - er, write about it here!! 


My memoir, Dear Elvis, can be found at http://amzn.to/2uPSFtE.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Letting Go



I recently heard a song on the radio that came out when I was in my thirties, although as I listened, it seemed much older than that. It seemed like something that was around when I was in my teens. The song was Neil Sedaka’s Breaking Up is Hard to Do, and it had a kind of upbeat sound to it, when in fact breaking up is anything but upbeat.

The same is true of letting go, which is something I’ve been trying to do for a while now. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from past experiences, it’s that letting go is a process, and one that involves not "unloving" but allowing.

I’ve learned, too, that once I’ve let go of something – or someone – I’ve felt much freer than I did when I was holding on so desperately. Letting go also means making room for something new because life is full of surprises.



One of the things I’ve been using to help me get through this process is a poem I found on the Insight Timer app on my phone. It’s a poem presented as a meditation read by John Siddique and written by Rev. Safire Rose.

It’s titled She Let Go, and it goes like this:

She let go.

Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments. She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head...Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go...

No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing.

Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go...

There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good, and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that. In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.


My memoir, Dear Elvis, can be found at http://amzn.to/2uPSFtE.