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.

Friday, April 19, 2019

I'M BOOKED!

Spring has arrived bringing with it the end of the Literature/ Discussion class I take
every semester at Temple University.  The five books assigned this semester were: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg, Rachel Cusk’s Outline, Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward and Claire Fuller’s Bitter Orange.


Of the five books, my favorite (and the favorite of most of my classmates) was Ward’s lyrical and haunting Sing Unburied Sing. It was a second reading for me, a story about a young African American woman named Leone who takes her two young children on a road trip across rural Mississippi to pick up their white father who has just been released from Parchman prison. There are ghosts in this story, one being Leone’s older brother who was killed in a hunting “accident.” The other is a teenage boy who is threatened with a death eerily similar to the death of a young Emmett Till, who was brutally and heinously murdered in 1955 in rural Mississippi.  


My second favorite book was Water’s The Little Stranger. It is a story about a young Dr. Faraday who is called to attend to a resident at Hundreds Hall, a once impressive English mansion that is now in decline and crumbling. It is home to the Ayres, whose ancestors occupied the house for more than two hundred years. But, the house and its current residents, seem to be haunted now, not just by a dying way of life, but by something much more sinister. So upset was I at the end of this story, I wanted its villain (or was he its hero? - only you can decide), indicted, if not in a courtroom then at least in the classroom.


And, as for The Third Hotel, it is a story about a secret so onerous it can only be found by reading between the lines van den Berg wrote. Indeed, it is so hidden that it was entirely missed by myself and every other member of the class, except one.

All in all, this semester’s selections seemed, at least to me, more intriguing and inspiring than those of any other semester, and I am looking forward to returning to class in September. In the meantime, I am hoping to spend the upcoming summer with the books that are piled high on my shelves, most of which I’ve been collecting at library sales and from “Little Library” sites.     


Monday, March 11, 2019

Boundless


I don't often see a movie and afterward, think of it as sweet. But that was exactly what the last movie I saw was. The movie, Stan and Ollie, was about the comedy team, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (also known as “Babe”), who took their careers from vaudeville to silent films, and then to “talkies.” 

As a child, I didn’t see a lot of movies for reasons I discussed in my memoir, Rude Awakening. So, I didn’t see many of their routines, and when I did, I just didn’t “get” slapstick. But as I watched actors Steve Coogan and John C Reilly re-enact the routines of these two song and dance men, I finally “got” it, especially one routine that their manager called “magic.” As I watched it, I realized I was both holding my breath and enthralled.

But, what really worked between Laurel, who wrote most of the material for the act, and Hardy, who was his first and most enthusiastic supporter, was the friendship and love they shared.

As the movie ended, words appeared on the screen telling us about the death of Hardy in 1957, and about how, afterward, Laurel continued to write material for the act until his own death in 1965. Why would he do that? I wondered. I, who wrote an entire book about someone who died, wondered, Why would he do that? Why, indeed?


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

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Serenity

It's been almost a year now since I've returned to the church of my childhood. It's become a good practice for me, a good way to start the week. It's a place where I can feel both exulted and grounded. But last week something different happened. 

Just before Mass, I saw my sister who's been a member of this parish since we were children. She teaches CCD. She volunteers to help wherever she’s needed.

Inside the church, I sat beside her. “I’m leaving a few minutes early,” she whispered as the Mass began. “I’m going across the street to help out.”

“To where?”

“It’s a shelter for the homeless. Do you want to come?”

I shivered. “No,” I responded, determined to stay inside until the Mass ended. But when my sister got up to leave, I followed her. “I’ll walk with you,” I said.

“Come inside,” she said when we got there. I followed her into the kitchen where a woman was stirring a large pot of food. “It smells good,” I said as she smiled. 

“Come with me into the dining room,” my sister said. Inside my mind, the words “dining room” conjured an image of a large mahogany table. Instead, I found an assortment of folding tables covered with pink- and rose-colored cloths. There were two women sitting at one of them. “This is my sister,” my sister said by way of introduction.

Oh my God, I thought when I looked at them, struck by their demeanor. They barely glanced at me. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. They looked so forlorn. They looked so unloved. Why aren’t they in church, I wondered, asking for help. Later, I wondered why I wasn’t in church asking for help for them.

Their image stayed with me throughout the long and tumultuous week, a week of holidays and storms. Finally, at the end of it, I returned to church and got to my knees.

God, I said, did you see those women?

Did you? he answered.

Yes.

What did you see?

They looked - I stopped, unable to put my feelings into words.

What?

They looked lost.

Really? Are you sure that’s what you saw? Think again. Think back. What else did you see? 

They looked as though they had given up.

Given up?

Resigned. They looked as though they were resigned to their situation?

Are you?

I sighed. What should I do?

Do what you came here to do. Say a prayer.

I bowed my head. Lord, I said, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Okay, he said.

But it’s not enough, I told him. There must be more. There must be something else I can do.

Say it again, he said.


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