Disaster Mindset


West Yarmouth 07/23/19- Yarmouth firefighters search for possible victims after the roof of a whole wing of the Cape Sands Inn was blown off in what is believed to be a tornado early Tuesday afternoon. No guests were reported injured as violent storms moved over the Cape. Photo by John Tlumacki/Globe Staff(metro)

It’s been a long and scary day here in Massachusetts. One, or maybe two, tornadoes touched down on Cape Cod. We saw roofs blown off, power taken out, trees uprooted, roads blocked.

And of course we saw dozens of people stepping up to help their neighbors, their friends, and total strangers.

It got me thinking.

When the storms blow in, and everyday life is turned completely on its head, we humans immediately become our best selves. We bring each other water, and give each other food. We pull the trees off of our neighbor’s houses and we offer to share our generators.

I’ve seen it.

In 2008, a huge ice storm hit this part of New England. My street was without power for nine days. But our neighbors across town offered hot showers, a place to do laundry and a community meal. Our neighbors across the street emptied their swimming pool into barrels and brought them around to all of us who couldn’t flush our toilets because our water runs on an electrically operated pump.

We shared food, wood stoves, water, chain saws. It was wonderful and awful at the same time.

Disaster mentality. It’s not a bad thing.

So how about this?

How about if we all approach each other as if we were in the middle of a disaster? How about if we look at each other as people, humans, neighbors?

I know that when the power went out, I didn’t ask my neighbors who they were voting for. I didn’t ask their thoughts on immigration or global warming or race relations or anything.

I just asked if they needed anything. They asked me that back.

So wouldn’t it be a wonderful idea if we all decided to think about each other as if we’re in the middle of a major disaster? If we could ask each other, “What do you need?” or “What will help you?” instead of asking how we feel about Medicare for all?

I don’t know if it would help.

But it couldn’t be worse than what we are doing right now. It couldn’t be worse than judging each other by which T shirt we are wearing.

Right?

What do you think?

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


Aw for crap’s sake.

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about these days! Between the killer heat waves, the rising oceans and the increase in mega storms, it’s already obvious that Mother Earth is trying to kill us before we kill her.

There are weird new super germs appearing everywhere, and the drugs we have aren’t working.

Did you know you can get flesh-eating disease from swimming in warm ocean water? And ALL the ocean water is warm now!

(Who the hell thought up the name “flesh-eating disease” anyway? Sicko.)

And even if you decide to risk having your flesh chewed off my bacteria and you jump into that warm ocean, you’ll probably be eaten by a great white shark.

I tell ya. It just isn’t safe out there.

The food supply isn’t safe. Our household cleaners are giving us cancer.

Don’t even get me started on what happens if you drink water that got left in a plastic bottle in your car!!

So as if all that isn’t enough to send you to the therapist with a bottle of Xanax in one hand and a pot brownie in the other….There is a scientist in Tennessee who is trying find a portal into a mirror universe.

Yes, I am serious.

A. Portal. Into. A. Parallel. Universe.

What in the world is wrong with people? Shouldn’t scientists be busy trying to cool off the earth, or stop the bacteria from eating our flesh?

We don’t need another universe, thank you very much. We’re having enough trouble with the one we’re in now.

So I’m reaching out to all of you. Please send a letter to your local elected officials. Tell them that unless the new mirror universe is cool, safe and has a non-insane President, we don’t want any part of it.

Thanks.

I think I’ll go bake some brownies.

Feeling Thoughtful


We live in difficult times. We live in sorrowful times.

We live in times that make it hard for us to keep our humanity close at hand. Times when we need to remind ourselves that those “others” are really “us”.

So I’m thinking. I’m not talented enough to come up with the powerful words that these times require. Luckily, a lot of very talented people have already covered this ground.

“What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the observer.” by Elie Wiesel

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

– Abraham Lincoln

A Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me.”

– Robert E. Lee

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus, poem on the Statue of Liberty

“If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”

Founding Father Samuel Adams

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”

Author Mark Twain


Am I Proud to be American?


The other day I saw a poll question on the website Smerconish.com. The question was “How proud are you to be an American?”

Interesting question, I guess.

I really like Michael Smerconish, the owner of the website. He is also the host of a show on SiriusXM’s POTUS station and one on CNN. He is very smart, so I always learn something when I listen to him. He is very well informed, so I believe what he reports. And he is pretty non-partisan. He has been a Republican for most of his adult life, but is open minded and thoughtful.

I like him.

So I thought a lot about his poll question.

And here’s what I decided.

There are many things in my life that make me proud.

I’m very proud of my children. They are kind. They are altruistic. They all work in fields that let them help other people. They love each other. They are loyal friends. I am proud of them because I had something to do with how they turned out. I worked hard to be the best parent I could be.

I’m proud of my professional life. I’ve helped to teach hundreds of kids over the years. I’ve learned a lot, taken classes, listened to my smarter colleagues. I’m proud of having done my best to be a supportive and loving adult in the lives of my students. I did my best. I worked hard. I’m proud of my efforts.

My garden gives me a lot of pride, too. When I moved into this house almost three decades ago, there were no flowers. I have dug, weeded, thinned, composted, taken gardening classes, read books, transplanted, pulled up grass……You get it. I have worked very hard to make my yard look inviting in the warm months and cozy in the cold ones. And it’s all organic, too!

But when I think about the question on the website, I am confused.

Why should I feel pride in something for which I bear no responsibility? I was born an American citizen. I didn’t do a single thing to make that true. It’s true because of blind luck. And because of the courage and determination of my grandparents, who chose to leave the beauty and poverty of Italy in the hope of giving their children a better life.

I’m grateful that they did that. I’m happy about it. But proud?

I don’t deserve to feel pride.

How do I feel about the founding principals upon which this country was built?

Well. Given the fact that my ancestors were on another continent when all of that glory was unfolding, arriving on these shores only in the middle of the industrial revolution, I don’t see why I should feel pride in my country.

Do I like the principals and goals enumerated in our founding documents? Sure, for the most part I like them just fine. Sure. Freedom, liberty, pursuit of happiness? All good.

But am I proud of them? No. Because I didn’t think of them, fight for them, sacrifice to see them put into place. I didn’t write them down and sign the Declaration of Independence even though that signature might have cost me my life.

So. I guess I’m not actually proud to be an American.

But how do I feel about my personal role in the life of the United States? Am I proud of that?

To some extent, yes I am.

I’m proud that I follow our political discourse. I’m proud that I read multiple sources to shape my ideas. I’m proud that I have gotten involved and have marched for causes I support. I’m proud of the fact that I always vote.

These are actions I’ve taken. Efforts that I have made, on my own, to improve life in this country.

I’m proud of myself as an American. But I don’t understand the idea of being “proud to be an American.”

I am an American because, by the luck of the draw, I was born here. I am an American because other people made sacrifices to get me here.

I am proud to be a decent, kind, loving human. I am proud to be inclusive and welcoming. I’m proud to be nurturing.

I am be proud to have given something good and beautiful to the world.

And I will remember that I have no reason, and no right, to be proud of the things that were given to me simply by luck.

It Is So Simple


I had a wonderful conversation today with two intelligent, thoughtful women. One is a college student. Incredibly bright, well read, an engineer in training, and a gifted singer. The other is her grandmother, born and raised in the Netherlands, but an American for many decades.

We were chatting about life at a family party, and the topic of motherhood came up. The young woman has her doubts about wanting to raise a child. As I teased her and prodded her about the joys of parenting, she said something that brought my words to a halt.

“I don’t know where this country will be in five or ten years. I don’t know that I want to bring a child into a place like this.”

That lead us to a discussion of national politics, and to the scary and bewildering place in which we find ourselves.

We talked about the current horde or Democratic candidates, and realized that all three of us are firmly behind the progressives who are running. We all shared our excitement about the fact that there seems to be a competition to shake out which one of them is the most liberal.

How refreshing, I said to them both, I’ve been calling myself a Socialist since the 1970s!

That’s when my new friend, the woman raised in the Netherlands, began to share her thoughts.

“I don’t understand this strange reaction to the word Socialist! It doesn’t mean that you don’t want any kind of capitalism! It means that capitalism must have a conscience!”

We talked about the fact that a healthy and thriving country is one that takes care of the very basic needs of it’s people. About the fact that our friends from Europe are unable to understand when we tell them that our daughter will only have six weeks of unpaid leave after giving birth to a child.

We talked about the fact that if a country is able to produce a healthy, well educated, financially secure next generation, it is likely to have a stronger economy than a country whose people live in poverty.

“It’s so simple!” said my friend. “Socialism means that the government takes care of the social needs of the people. Why don’t Americans look at the lives of Europeans and see what it could be like here? Why don’t they look at life in the Scandinavian countries? Or in the rest of Western Europe?”

I had no answer for her, obviously. But I agreed with her assessment.

It is so simple.

Taxes should be paid to the government so that the government can provide the basic needs that individuals can’t grant to themselves. Education, paved roads, healthcare, national defense, a secure retirement, a healthy environment.

“It is so simple.”

Yes. It really is.

I wonder if the United States can ever get itself to see that fact.

My heroes


The older you get, the harder it is to find heroes.

Know what I mean?

It gets harder and harder with each passing winter to find someone who is uplifting, empowering, inspiring.

But you know what? Hanging out with young people helps. A lot.

My kids are working to revitalize and reshape an entire small American city. They are hands-on, in the dirt, reinventing an old New England Mill town. They love the town, they love their work, they love each other.

That’s inspiring and uplifting and all that good stuff. Isn’t it?

And they also make music. Fun music. Music that people really enjoy.

My kids do it for fun and personal pride, rather than for profit. That makes it more fun and less pressure. For them, the making of the music is not a life or death scenario. But they know lots of people who make even more music, some of which is in fact professional. For some of those friends, life does seem to be dependent upon that music.

Music that pokes your soul and taps your brain and tells you that as long as your heart is beating, your hope is alive.

That is a truly inspiring, empowering and uplifting message. Those who can bring that kind of message to us should surely be our heroes!

Of course, if I want find even more heroes, I should look at the very young to find my answers. I should look at teenagers to find my inspiration.

I’m watching right now as dozens of kids I used to teach are graduating from High School and university. I am sending good luck messages to men and women who were once the shy, quiet kids in my fifth grade class. I’m sending way-to-go cards to kids who were once the swaggering, cool-jock, super-pretty kids in my elementary school room.

Those kids have grown from needing me to open their juice boxes to planning the next renewable fuel source. They took every bit of love and teaching that was offered and they ran with it. That’s pretty cool!

And I can find heroes just by smiling at the people I run into ever day. Just by seeing those people. By hearing them.

Yesterday my husband and I had breakfast at a real, true, classic New England diner. This place had a sign out front that was no longer legible. The steps were worn, cracked, and warped. Inside, the diner was run down and worn, but was obviously an antique.

“Ya want coffee?” was our introduction the ambiance. Not particularly welcoming.

But.

Within five minutes, we were chatting and laughing with the woman who was making the food. About my own middle age, she had a sturdy build and a working woman’s hands. She wore her gray hair in a ponytail, and had it clipped to the back of her hat.

As she flipped the eggs, poured pancake batter and buttered the toast, the woman engaged us in conversation. Her voice was rough. Her jokes were just what I’d have predicted: she lived so far out in the woods that she could sit outside in her underwear and it wouldn’t even scare off the moose. Her manner was strict and unsmiling, “Kids today would never have made it in my old neighborhood in New York.” She wanted to be gruff, strong, unsmiling.

But before my French Toast was flipped, I had learned that she was a widow, that her one child was an adult daughter who was soon to be married and who worked with troubled youth. I learned that the Mom was inspired by her daughter’s ongoing education, and that Mom knew how proud Dad would be of his girl.

That woman is my hero. She is strong, tall, unlovely. She takes care of orphaned cats and one dog. She grows flowers. She loves her daughter fiercely and misses her husband profoundly.

And every morning she wakes up, drives to the Diner, and starts to sling the hash for the neighbors and friends who come in.

That’s a hero.

We are actually surrounded by heroes, if we only take the time to look. The child who knows he doesn’t understand the social rules, but who heads off to school every day anyway. The teen who has music and poetry within their heart, but who is scared to share it. The moment when they share it anyway.

The musician who gets up in front of strangers for the first time and plays the song. The writer who hits “send”. The man who gets up every single weekday for 40 years just to turn on the lights in the municipal building. The woman who carefully adds a handful of blueberries to the pancakes on her griddle, a hundred and a hundred times every day.

We are each other’s heroes, really. We are all better together, stronger together, kinder together. We need to find our heroes in each other. We need to see each others’ heroes in ourselves.

Solving Problems


We are your lawmakers.

I watch a lot of news. As in, way too much news.

I was a political science major way back in the seventies. And I studied and taught history for a bunch of years. I am a huge fan of the United States of America, and of its founding principals.

So I am feeling pretty freaking frustrated at the inability of our elected officials to solve any problems.

ANY PROBLEMS.

Even the most obvious, most smack you in the face problem can’t seem to find an answer.

For example, let’s look at the suddenly-salient-once-again issue of abortion. So many of our elected “leaders” are suddenly determined to stop all abortions. They are so serious about stopping this medical procedure that they are threatening women with life imprisonment or death if they find themselves so desperate to abort that they go forward with the procedure in spite of the laws.

Those on the right scream about being “pro-life!” and pat themselves on the back for being the protectors of innocent children.

I get it. I was a patient at an infertility clinic for several years. I would have given anything to have had a baby. I understand the pro life position. I do.

But then those on the left scream about the attacks on women and on female power. They insist that they are protecting the rights of women to protect their own bodies, their living children, their family units.

I remember when I found myself shockingly and unexpectedly pregnant when my second child was only 6 month old. The child who was conceived using a boatload of high tech interventions.

I never thought about abortion, but I was badly shocked and thrown off to find myself pregnant, anemic, nursing and working full time.

The fact that I could have made choice to end that pregnancy, protecting myself and my other two kids, gave me a sense of peace.

I get it. I REALLY get it.

I chose to go on with my surprise pregnancy, but nature ended it for me only four weeks later. I grieved for a long time for that lost child, but I am eternally grateful that I had the freedom to choose whether or not to go on with the pregnancy.

I understand the desire to end our need for abortion. I understand our desire to keep our choices in place.

But here’s what pisses me off.

If we, as a society, TRULY wanted to limit the number of abortions in this country, we could do it tomorrow.

It isn’t that hard.

We just need to do more research into the best and safest forms of birth control. We need to be putting a whole boatload of money into finding a successful male contraceptive.

And when birth control is safe and effective, we should offer it out there to EVERYONE. It should be given out at high schools, at colleges, at workplaces. It should be free. Easy to use. Easily talked about.

There should be public kiosks where you could get yours.

Cuz, you know what? The whole idea of limiting unwanted pregnancies by limiting sex is so far beyond ignorant that it can only elicit a laugh.

ALL life is designed to procreate. Mammals do that through sex. We all want sex. A lot. Babies are a side product of our natural, God given, scientifically proven desire to mate.

If you want to stop the unwanted pregnancies, you don’t do it be shaming people about sex. (Weren’t these legislators ever teenagers? I mean….seriously!) If you want to stop pregnancy, you push for birth control.

Easy. Logical. Clear.

So why isn’t that the plan?

I don’t know.

Maybe because those who hold power benefit quite a bit when we “little people” are engaged in street fights about our bodies and our sex lives.

All I know is this: If those people being paid with our tax dollars really wanted to eliminate this problem, they could do it.

Right Now.

Do the Right Thing


Yup

So here’s my question: how do you really know what is the “right thing”? How can you be sure?

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where “the right thing” feels obvious to us. Help someone we love. Give to someone in need. Reach out to somebody who seems alone.

It seems so clear, doesn’t it?

But here’s the problem: we can never really know what other people are thinking. Even people we’ve known their entire lives. Even people we consider to be our closest, most trusted, most loved allies.

Even then, we can sometimes take an action that feels so clearly “good” to us, but which is met with anger, resentment and dismay.

What do we do then?

For me, having done something wrong out of a desire to do something right, I am at a complete loss. How do you apologize for what you felt, deeply and honestly, was a giving action? How do you get past the rage and resentment to explain what it was that you intended?

I don’t know.

What I do know, what I have come to believe, is that I have to trust my own intentions. I have to trust my knowledge about myself and about those around me.

Someone way smarter than me told me recently, “We can’t control how our messages are received. We can only control how they are sent.”

“Do the right thing.”

Sure. Sounds easy.

Only its actually the hardest thing there is.

Looking For Hope


I watch too much news. I read too much of it. I listen to it on and off all day. NPR, Sirius XM, CNN, Reuters, AP, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe.

I check Facebook and Twitter, too.

I. Need. To. Stop.

Sure, it’s good to stay informed and it’s important to know what is happening outside of these four walls.

But holy disaster movie, Batman, it is really terrifying out there!

There are black holes swallowing parts of the galaxy, giant meteors hurtling this way, hundreds of species facing imminent extinction right here on our own little blue planet.

And that’s only the beginning.

Democracy is crumbling around us. Our country is being run by a paranoid narcissist and his evil minions. War drums are beating around the world. Children are dying in their classrooms almost every day.

Measles are back. Superbugs are emerging. Scientists are predicting another flu pandemic.

Oh, and the planet is a decade away from becoming uninhabitable.

ONE DECADE.

I’ve taken a light tone in this piece, but the truth is far more serious. Like most people I know, I am walking around every single day with a vague sense of impending doom.

Sometimes I look at my beautiful grandchildren and my heart hurts. Will they have a future? What will life be like for their children?

I find myself in need of hope. I need reassurances that humans can truly rise above our worst instincts. I seek out proof that the human spirit is resilient and that good does outlast evil.

For me, hope and reassurance are often found in books. Lately, though, I’ve been struggling to find books that feel real and true. I don’t want a romanticized view of war, where all of the “good guys” are beautiful and loyal and kind, and all the “bad guys” are evil. I want some reality, but I want it to lift me up.

I found a book like that last week, completely by accident. I follow a blog called “The Cricket Pages“. It’s author, Rachel Mankowitz, has a book published on Amazon. It looked interesting, and I try to support other bloggers. So I bought “Yeshiva Girl.”

And I fell into a story that grabbed me by the heart. It’s one of those books that is written with a spare, elegant style that doesn’t waste a word. The main character, a girl named Izzy, is in pain throughout the book. The mood is somber and anxious, but she never gives in completely.

When the book ended, I was sad that there wasn’t more to read. I fell asleep thinking about Izzy, wondering what happened to her next. And I realized that whatever it was, I was sure that Izzy would be alright.

I felt stronger.

We need more books like Yeshiva Girl! Thank you, Rachel Mankewitz!

The BAD PLASTIC Awards


Ok, fine. I am not really one of those “awards show” people. I mean, I haven’t ever seen all the movies nominated for Best Picture. I don’t know most of the Emmy nominees.

And as for the Grammys? Puh. Leeze. I am far too cool and hip and groovy to follow those pop stars.

But I suddenly find myself with the overwhelming desire to create a new category of award winners.

Because I spend WAY too much of my life ordering stuff online, and because I am also a dedicated environmentalist, I find myself enraged at plastic.

Plastic…plastic….plastic wrapped plastic…..

Really.

I go to my local grocery store once a week with my canvas bags. I put my veggies in mesh bags instead of plastic. I carefully choose milk and juice in cardboard cartons, detergents in biodegradable packages, and snacks in cardboard.

I use compostable trash bags, bamboo sandwich bags and metal water bottles that I fill myself.

I am a good doobie. I love this earth! I don’t want to kill her or her gorgeous oceans!

I am VERY careful about plastic.

Until I order on Amazon.

Then I lose my teeny tiny little mind. Because no matter what I buy, it comes in plastic.

No. Matter. What. It. Is.

For example, I was shopping for my grandchildren just before Easter. I saw cute little plastic eggs filled with pastel playdough. I decided to order them in spite of the plastic, thinking that I’d be able to reuse the eggs for years.

Then they arrived.

Four cute little plastic eggs. Each one wrapped in five or six layers of plastic shrink wrap, then carefully vacuum sealed within a hard plastic case.

Seriously?

It was FREAKIN’ PLAYDOUGH! It wasn’t going to rot. Or mold. Or degrade. The four ounces of pink and blue goop came enclosed in THREE layers of plastic.

Three layers of plastic that will remain intact for about 10 bazillion years.

Holy stupidity, humans.

So.

Here I am. I am proposing a group endeavor. I’d like everyone who is reading this to nominate some company or item for our “BAD PLASTICS” Award.

I nominate the Playdough Easter eggs, but I could just as easily have brought up the plastic measuring spoons that came wrapped in plastic, the potting soil (aka, “dirt’) that came wrapped in plastic, or the eco friendly bamboo toilet paper that came wrapped in (you guessed it) plastic.

What have you got, fellow environmentalists? Let’s start our own “Awards Show”.