Sunday, December 31, 2017

Purple Plans

Every New Year's Eve I break out the cookbooks and choose some recipes for a lovely dinner. Just me and my husband. It's a tradition I've maintained for many years. We march around all year long to other people's drums so I like to end it with a day in the kitchen "creating".

Once dinner is over it's usually a movie or some sort of music. This year Ron gave me a DVD of a Prince concert from his infamous vault. It was from 1985 and included many of the Purple Rain songs. I watched it in awe of Prince's artistry and energy. Made my "creativity" in the kitchen seem like small potatoes.

Prince has been with me all through my adulthood and I figure that he should see me out of this life as well.

Friends laugh when I talk about my funeral and what I want. My friend Mary told me many years ago she would bring the mac salad when I started talking about my wishes. I don't think that's a depressing subject at all - planning one's funeral, that is. It's a great way to think about your life and what is important to you.

My friend Kathleen has been assigned DJ duties and knows that Prince is on the top of the list. We saw Prince together in 2004 and it was one of the defining moments of our friendship.

When I was watching the 1985 Prince tonight in what some would argue was the height of his career, I was reflecting on his life and how he always seemed ageless and almost immortal to me. Like he would somehow transcend space and time because of his spiritual presence in my life and others.

He performed a couple of the songs I want played at my funeral: Let's Go Crazy to start the service (with everyone in the aisles dancing, led by the young people in my life who already know that's their responsibility) and Purple Rain to close. In the middle, I want Nothing Compares 2U played (the live version).

I miss Prince's presence on this planet. Though I really feel that he left so much of himself behind that he *has* transcended space and time. His music fills me with joy and energy that is at a premium in my life given my chronic illness. His lyrics make me contemplate a higher power. I live vicariously through his phenomenal dance and guitar skills. He feels like a present-day Mozart who lifts me up and inspires me as well.

At the end of the calendar year I do spend time reflecting on not so much where I was but where I'm going. Physical life is short. Prince's sure was. What will I leave behind that others will find inspiring and joyful? What memories will I provide that will lift others up? Will my presence inspire others to think about their own lives when they reflect on New Year's Eve after I'm gone?

I don't think you have to be a rock god to make a difference in people's lives. Or laugh in the purple rain. You only have to plant seeds of joy and introspection. And that's enough. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Finding Joy at Christmas

It's Christmas Eve and I'm sitting by the tree and the fire drinking my annual glass of Bailey's shortly before midnight. My husband is in bed - expecting to have to rise early to clear snow from the driveway. It's December, after all.

We spent the afternoon at my in-laws celebrating Christmas and the engagement of my brother-in-law who is marrying a great woman. She and I are two extroverts who hit it off immediately and I was in tears when I hugged her today as I welcomed her to the sister-in-laws club. 

My father-in-law returned home from rehab two days ago and will turn 89 next week. My mother-in-law is 92 and going strong with an attitude that defies age. 

I told the story of my engagement there tonight. It was 30 years ago tonight that my husband proposed to me in their living room. The rest of the family had gone to midnight mass and we had stayed behind. When they all returned with expectant smiles, I excitedly stuck out my left hand and we all jumped up and down with joy. It was one of those magical moments in my life that I will never forget.

The state of our country has been a source of great sadness to me. We are living through a White House that denies science and truth, denigrates our common humanity, and puts us at risk for war with a complete lack of diplomacy and detente. 

I constantly search for a light in the storm. Oftentimes I find it in the pastoral care work I do at my church. Or in the mentoring of amazing young women that makes me hopeful for the country's future. 

Tonight I found it in both the joy of a new marriage that is beginning, and the dedication to joy and quiet resolve that my church fosters not just at Christmas but all year long. 

When I read at our Christmas Eve service tonight, I choked up at the end of the poem my minister asked me to read. I share it with you here on this peaceful night and pray that you find the hope you need to carry on. 

There IS love and joy in the world. We just have to be ready to receive it.

“First Coming ” by Madeleine L’Engle

He did not wait until the world was ready,
Till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
And prisoners called out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
Turned water into wine. He did not wait.

Till hearts were pure. In joy he came
To a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
To heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
The Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
To raise our songs with joyful voice,
For to share our grief, to touch our pain
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Assault in the Age of Woman

When I was in my early twenties, I was sexually assaulted. It is something I never spoke of until this year. l told no one. Not family, not friends, not my husband. I had, in fact, completely shut it out of my mind. Until the rise of Trump.

My friend Diane and I had gone to see a friend's band perform at a club in Quincy Market in Boston. I had a major crush on the bass player and was not going to miss this. It was a Thursday night and we had parked at a garage nearby. It was a beautiful spring night and lots of people were out enjoying the evening.

We had a great night at the pub and left there around 11 since we had to work the next day. We were crossing to the parking garage and chatting about the cute bass player and how Diane thought I had a chance with him. 

Two young men were walking past us when suddenly one of them lurched forward and grabbed my breast with both hands so forcefully that I couldn't breathe. He was uttering some sort of drunken gibberish. Diane started shrieking. The man's friend grabbed his friend off me and apologized profusely. "He's REALLY drunk. I'm so sorry." and quickly led him away.

Diana and I stood there in shock. I had my arms around my chest in pain. Diane asked if we should call the police or maybe go back to the club to get the guys. I said, "I just want to go home." So we walked back to the garage and she drove me home. 

For a week I was in pain and the bruising was horrific. I was still living at home at the time but said nothing to my parents. I wondered if I should go to the hospital. I worried about the long-term physical effects of such an injury. Yet I told no one. 

Women talk about fear and shame when they are sexually assaulted in any way. And this includes verbal assault. We somehow feel that we did something to bring it on. But there's also this feeling that men are in charge of the world and this is the price women must pay to live in it with them. We fear repercussions because of that. Maybe we won't be believed. That our reputations will suffer because this happened to us. TO us often morphs into BECAUSE of us in our heads. Crazy, I know. But men would have to live as women for years to fully understand it.

Diane and I never spoke of it again. She was probably just as traumatized as me. The bruises and pain subsided and I stuffed all the feelings down as best I could. 

For the longest time I thought I must have been an anomaly. It was one of the reasons I didn't share it with anyone. 

Since then I have had a lower opinion of men in general. This is not to say that I am a female chauvinist. There are many many men whom I admire. My husband is one of those men. But, in general, I tend to roll my eyes when men "act up" because I feel that they are more easily swayed by baser instincts. I did not feel that way before that Thursday night in Boston. 

Earlier this year I was having a discussion with my husband about how Trump's openly attacking women both physically and verbally has stirred up a lot of old memories for women like me. At the time, I thought it was a bad thing. That women were suffering in droves because of the specter of sexual assault around every corner not to mention its normalization by the man in charge of the country. 

Initially I think that women like me did have some PTSD moments. We try hard to assimilate, show our strength, and compete with men in areas such as careers. Underneath it all, however, are memories like mine. 

Most women I know and admire don't take marginalization for long. We fight for ourselves, our families, and other women. So it is not surprising to me that women's trauma has turned to action. There have been too many Thursday nights in Boston for all of us. We are done.

A year ago, when Trump was elected, I was dejected and had very little hope. I was talking to my minister who was probably even more dejected than me. In the end, I told her that maybe this was what the country needed. A kick in the pants. We had become too complacent as a society. We needed to open all the wounds in order to heal them once and for all. 

I'm still not sure where all of this is going for women or the country. I was approached by a woman after the election who was working with others to recruit women to run for office. Because of my health, I had to decline. But there were many women who did accept the challenge. And that gives me great hope for the future. 

If there is a lesson in here for men (and I hope there is) it would be to talk to other men. Have they been that young man in Boston that Thursday night? Do they understand how invasive this is? Have they talked to their female family members and friends to see if they have stories to tell? 

If so, listen and share. These wounds will not heal if they remain covered.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Winners and Losers

I've been thinking of the Yankees’ firing of Joe Girardi. I was really surprised by that news not just because I think he is a great baseball manager but because it feels like our culture has become one of winners and losers with nothing in between. 

You only need to look as far as the White House for this cultural shift. How many times has Trump used the terms “winning” and “losers” not just in his campaign speeches but in his tweets and off-the-cuff remarks. 

Our social media perpetuates this culture with the one-upmanship of sharing our stories of whatever we’re winning at that particular day. It’s good to share. I’m a sharer by nature. I just wonder if people who don’t share are holding back because they feel that they can’t compete. Like if their day isn't as “winning” as others, they therefore must be losers.

The sports fans are this culture to the n’th degree. Boston has become this way particularly with the many titles from all of our local pro teams in the recent past. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t expect teams we patronize to perform at their best, but we also wrap ourselves up in their winning and losing as if their loss makes us losers too. And their winning, though we've really had very little to contribute, makes us champions as well.

This may be my over-thinking of a simple change in baseball management. But my concern is that we feel that by not grabbing the top prize we somehow have something to be ashamed of. And no one would value us if we don't produce that level of success consistently.

We live in a very competitive country. The pressure we put on ourselves, our employees, and even sometimes our children has created a national anxiety that is palpable. The origins of this competitiveness is an entire book in itself and one that I think should be written. I think it's bundled with our original fight for independence but has now morphed into our need to maintain global domination and be perceived as the greatest country on earth.

The national culture is found in everything from the arts to corporate expectations to governing dynamics. We can't escape it. 

It makes me sad to think that the foundation of our society is slowly focusing more on who wins than who contributes. It takes each of us with our own unique gifts to move the world in a direction of kindness and self-sustainability. We can't all be superstars or leaders. To start, we can recognize that personal value shouldn't be based on the number of checks in a win column created by someone else.

We win in many different ways all day long. For me, just getting out of bed with my illness is a huge win. For others juggling work, child-raising, and paying bills on time is a win.

I would hate to see us lose sight of the ability of all of us to be winners in our own way.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Of Lipstick and Liberals

MAC lipstick. My favorite brand.
I started getting into lipstick in the past two years because of a young friend who is really into it. I never thought it was something I looked good wearing and bristled at the brightness of the color on my face. 

But my friend Laura kept encouraging the practice by giving me lipstick samples, taking me on lipstick shopping trips, and discussing the different types of lipstick. It was all foreign to me but I started to embrace it. Now I never leave the house without even the most muted color on my lips - just as my mom did her whole adult life.

It's been a tough few months to be a liberal. The constant negativity in the news about the GOP's efforts to shut down civil rights, animal rights, and earth-centered policies is so against my core values. I have lost a lot of sleep while catastrophizing the next four years. 

My friend Susan told me recently that I need to keep writing and I realize that writing helps me put things in perspective. And maybe it helps others do the same. I find when I write that I don't catastrophize. Instead I find the inner pearl of wisdom that gets me to see the lesson in all of this. 

Today when I got out of bed, I do what I always do - check social media to see what's going on in the world (mine and the country's). It was filled with the usual button-pushing headlines. Comedians I follow try to find the humor in the absurdity of this presidency. That helps. Some. 

My mind shifted to my day. What did I have to do when I arose? As if by habit, my mind went to what I needed to do: answer emails, clean the house, do some laundry. It took me a few minutes to remember that I'm going out with a gang of friends tonight (we call ourselves The Usual Suspects) that bring me great joy.

I started thinking about what I would wear since we are going to a gourmet restaurant and jeans just won't do it. I mentally picked out my outift and then my mind turned to what lipstick I would wear because now I have a fairly large selection of colors and finishes to choose from (thank you, friend Laura). 

As a person who cares about the world, I think I often get lost in its troubles.  The earth's troubles become mine to the point of forgetting that I'm part of the universe too. What good does it do if I forego my life as penance for the misguidedness of others? How much of myself do I have to lose in an attempt to compensate for greater societal losses?

And, more importantly, will it change anything?

I have my coping strategies to get through what I feel is a downturn in my country's future. One of them is humor, one is listening to uplifting music especially the Hamilton soundtrack which reminds me that this country is resilient, another is helping those who suffer on a one-to-one level. These add brightness to a world that sometimes feels colorless. 

Kind of like lipstick. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A New Calling

My pastoral care stoll
I'm not one for making New Year's resolutions. I always figured that if I wanted to start something new, I shouldn't wait for a calendar change. 

One of the changes I made in 2016 was to accept an invitation from my minister to join her Pastoral Care Team. She asked me three years before but I was not in a place to help anyone after caretaking for aging parents for a few years.

The truth is I learned a lot from others who held me while I did that caretaking. But it took me some time to recognize those lessons in myself. I was (and, sometimes, still am) engulfed in the negativity from the experience. I needed to care for me for once and not worry about others.

As I came out of the self-involvement of trauma and grief, I started to see how those who supported me maybe needed some support too. 

There were a couple of church friends who were going through difficult times in their lives with the loss of loved ones. I was there for them as much as I could and tried to carry some of the weight. When discussing the pastoral care invitation with our intern minister she told me, "Kathy, you already are on the team. At least come to the meetings for the support."

I felt completely unqualified to do the work of pastoral care. What if I screw up and say something that makes things worse for someone? Who am I to walk someone through emotional difficulty?

My minister ran a training session for the team and I read a book she provided. I learned that it's not so much about talking as it is listening. It's not walking for but walking with. I remembered that most of what I needed for myself in those years of caretaking was a sympathetic ear and for someone to validate the misery I was in. No one could fix the situation and I bristled when someone suggested they could with overly simplified solutions.

This pastoral work is something that I found calls to me in a way that other volunteer work never could. When speaking to someone who is in crisis, I find an inner calm instead of anxiety which I expected at first. I'm not sure where that comes from and why it changed. Maybe it's because I have matured after the losses in my life. Or maybe it's because of the mentoring and support I receive from the ministry of our church and other team members. 

But I think some of it comes from the honor I felt as I was blessed by the congregation when given the stoll I now wear at church services. It was a moment of clarity for me. That this was real and important. That I am trusted by others to walk with them during the worst parts of their lives. 

If my health were better I would pursue a chaplaincy degree. Even at this late stage in my career life. 

And so though it's not something I can do full-time I will try to learn as much as I can from my ministers and team members. They are my role models and inspiration.

And when I wear my stoll or sit with those who grieve, I will remember that not everything in life is planned. That love and grief go hand in hand. That listening is more important than talking. And what a gift it is to be trusted with all of it.