A Lesson From Moana’s Grandma

My mother died last week, the night before Thanksgiving. She lived a long and very full life, and she left that life reluctantly.

Mom was a practicing Catholic, so my family grew up with the typical Catholic imagery of life and death. Heaven or Hell and all that. In her very last days, Mom was unsure of what was coming. She expressed her doubts that she’d really be reunited with our Dad, who was the love of her life for over six decades. She worried that her death would be a true ending, and she held on tenaciously to every fading breath.

It made me incredibly sad to hear her.


Yesterday I spent the day with my grandsons. I hadn’t seen them for 10 days, the time of our vigil by Mom’s bedside. Both had been sick, as had their Mom and sister. They were in COVID quarantine, and as I grieved for my Mother, I missed all of them terribly.

So I was filled with relief and joy to have them here yesterday, although I worried that my sadness and my distracted mind might bother them.

I should have known better.

My little Johnny, all of four and a half years of wisdom, was working on a puzzle of the “Polar Express.” I was sitting with his baby brother on my knee, just watching the puzzle master at work. Suddenly, Johnny asked me,

“Is Great Grandma a spirit now?”

“Yes,” I answered. “She is.”

“But, what is her spirit?”

“What do you mean, honey?”

“What is it? What is her spirit?”

“I don’t know,” I answered as truthfully as I could. “You can’t see it. It’s the part of Great Grandma that loves us. It’s still around us.”

This seemed a bit too metaphysical for such a young child, but I wasn’t sure how to proceed. My daughter and her family don’t go to church, nor do we. I know that the kids have talked about life and death. I know that they have looked at and thought about the deaths of birds and salamanders and other animals. They’ve been through the death of their family dog.

But I didn’t know how much of the “invisible spirit” idea a four-year-old could grasp. I didn’t want him thinking of ghosts.

Johnny never stopped placing his puzzle pieces. He never even looked up at me.

He just said one thing before I broke down in tears and he came to give me a hug.

“Nonni,” he said. “I think her spirit is you now. I think it’s you.”


It was later in the day, as we were eating a snack, that I asked Johnny what he thought about spirits. He thought for a minute, then looked up at me seriously.

“Remember Moana’s Grandma? She turned into a spirit of a ray.”

That was all this sweet, wise little soul needed to know. He wasn’t thinking of Heaven or Hell or worthiness or sins. He was thinking that he’d learned everything he needed to know about spirits from one Disney movie.

Call me crazy, but I am so happy to think that my strong, powerful, smart Momma is out there somewhere in sparkling spirit form. Maybe she is a spirit cat, like her precious kitty Tess. Maybe she is an octopus, so fitting for our “pulpi” eating Sicilian family.

Or maybe, just maybe, her spirit really is me.

I don’t know yet.

But I know that Johnny has taken a valuable lesson from one sweet movie. He doesn’t fear death, because even at his tender age, he understands that spirits go on and that death is not goodbye.

This, if you ask me, is the most perfect belief a human could have.

Tired of insanity

I am getting so damned tired of hearing people behave in reprehensible ways in the name of “protecting” children.

Just sick of it.

“I will protect children from the evils of drugs by making their poverty stricken parents take drug tests before they get food assistance!”

“I will protect children from the evils of slavery and socialism by keeping them away from those awful public schools!” (No. I did not make that up. Read it here.)’

And the latest version of “I am a better parent than you,” comes in the form of a screaming, ranting “Christian” woman spouting off against Target for allowing people who LOOK like, DRESS like, THINK like, IDENTIFY as, and want to be considered female to pee in the women’s bathroom.

Please read this article, first published on LiberalAmerica, and think about what it means to be a “good parent.”

I am just so sick of it.

‘Beware Of Socialism And Slavery In Our Schools!’

A woman’s touch.


A long, long time ago, I was an exchange student. I went from the safe enclave of an upper-middle class American town to the exotic and slightly scary world of Tunisia.

It was 1973.  I knew nothing about Tunisia, or about Islam, and I found myself thrust into an absolutely exotic and entrancing world, filled with mystery and wonder.

Luckily for me, I went very quickly from the world of “Casablanca” to the world of “Nice middle class family”. Although I was inspired and amazed by the sounds and sights of the Minarets, by the beauty of the ancient mosques, and by the exotic perfumes of the jasmine blossoms, I was also made aware of the universality of familial and cultural love.

While I was living in Tunisia, I noticed the prevalence of the “khamsa” symbol; a hand held up in benediction, bringing a wish for love and peace.  The khamsa is a woman’s blessing.  I was told by my Islamic Tunisian friends that the symbol represented “the hand of Fatma, the daughter of Mohammed”.   I loved the idea of the holy woman, bringing her gentle guidance to the people with her upheld hand.  When I came back from my summer in Tunisia, I carried a “khamsa” decorated dish, which I have proudly displayed for 41 years.

A few years after my trip to Tunisia, I worked as an interpreter for Jewish Russian immigrants.  To my great surprise, I noticed the image of the upheld hand, with its five fingers splayed, in the world of my Jewish friends.  I asked what it signified, and was told, “It is the hand of Miriam!  It means a woman’s blessing.”

I thought that was pretty cool.

I have since read that the “khamsa” is a symbol that was recognized by very early Christians, who called it “The hand of Mary.” Amazing.

As a mother, I absolutely love the idea of the woman’s blessing. I love that it transcends the so-called differences between the great religions.

If I ever had a “totem”, this would be it.

About ten years ago, I came home from work one day. I pulled into my driveway, grabbed my bag of school work, and stepped out of the car.

At my feet, I found a tiny, perfectly shaped, rubber “khamsa”.  I picked it up, held it in my hand, gasped in surprise.  Where had it come from?

I had no idea.

I placed it carefully in the front window of my house.  It stayed there for a very long time. A mysterious and powerful message of love and peace and blessings.

Two years ago, on my birthday, my daughter bought me a beautiful silver “khamsa” necklace.  It holds my birthstone in the center of its palm.

I love it because Kate gave it to me, but I love it more for what it signifies.  Each day of the Gaza/Israel war, I wore my khamsa.  I touched it over and over again, thinking, “You both love peace and gentleness! You both worship the guiding hand of the Mother. What are you DOING?”

I wore my khamsa to school this week.   I wore it because I love its message.

On the second day of school, I was standing in my classroom with about 12 kids who were heading home on Bus #3, my assigned “busroom”.  We were all lined up, waiting patiently for our ride home.

A tiny little first-grade girl, born in Nigeria, reached up to touch my “khamsa” with her fingertip.  “What is this thing?”, she asked, her bright yellow hair ribbons bobbing.  She was frowning in concentration, and her beautiful little face was filled with concern.

I told her, and the other children in line behind her, all about the khamsa.

“It means that there is a woman who is showering everyone with love.  She wants to keep everyone safe.”, I said. “She is giving a blessing.”

I stood still, thinking that this information was most likely beyond the comprehension of my smallest charges.

Then a little voice chimed in, “Oh, I get it!”, she cried with excitement.  She was a tiny little blondie, the friend of her Nigerian classmate.  Her bright blue eyes lit up, and her dimpled cheeks were stretched out with a smile.

She reached out one little finger, and placed it in the heart of my “khamsa” necklace.

“I get it!” she said again, “That lady is YOU!”

I was speechless.  I didn’t know how to respond to such a lovely gift.

And this is why I love my job.

Salaam, shalom, peace, mir, pax, etc.  May the spirit of the “khamsa” be with you and yours.