It was Friday the 13th. A bright full moon night. My husband, Pete and I were headed out to Manitou Springs (in Colorado Springs), basically around 40-ish minutes away from where we live. I was to give a talk at the Storytellers Project, a popular monthly venue followed by a loyal and pretty large group of storyteller aficionados.
We gave ourselves over an hour to get there by 7 p.m., when Sharon Friedman, the Owner/Director of the Project requested I be there. No problemo. We loaded up the car with some extra books (Strength from Tragedy) hopefully to sell and autograph. Most of you already know the book and topic about my nearly 20-year friendship and correspondence with Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank.
I was both excited and terrified. Because though I’ve been giving this talk for years now, this would be the first time I was to be speaking “off-book”. In other words, no cheat sheet. No fat notebook in front of me filled with the entire story, quotes, references, etc. Nope. I was to wing it and just tell the story from my heart as I needed to convince myself I already knew it and to tell it in a far more personal way than I’d ever spoken of it before. I was waaay out of my comfort zone.
So many mixed emotions facing this New Year. The first birthday of my life without my beloved mother to cheer me on as she always did each and every year. I have packs of her letters and notes inscribed with her beautiful cursive and loving words. My little cheerleader of the heart now off in the heavenly ethers of time and memories along with so many others in that ephemeral Land of Use To Be. Gone but never to be forgotten.
Another year of Auld Lang Syne. I was born on the 31st of December so for as long as I can remember I thought that poignant melody was my birthday song. It always made me feel sad inside, nostalgic for something I didn’t even understand why it moved me so but it always did. It still does.
This morning we watched CBS Morning like we always try and do most Sunday mornings and this one really got to me. It was the segment about those Trump supporters in West Virginia –at one time mostly Democrats but now die hard “Trumpsters.” I could feel my ire starting to boil over and my judgement chip rarin’ to go becoming as vile in my thoughts as I have felt this “other” faction to be. And then I listened to them. And I watched them. And I looked at their lives and their frustrations and their pain and fear.
They have been ignored by everyone. Left out to struggle on their own—once productive, mostly coal miners and their families, they’re now living in a nearly boarded-up world of no money, no jobs, considered the lower-not-the-middle class. They’re falling into a quagmire of physical, emotional and financial quicksand and no one has offered to pull them out. No one was listening to their pain to make what has been so un-great, great again. So is it no wonder that they look at Trump as the only promise of change they have? What tremendous anger and sorrow and futility and fear they must to have in order for an unfathomable Donald Trump (!) to be considered their Rescuer?
So many of you are feeling what I’m feeling right now. Vulnerable. Lost. Way out of our comfort zones. Stuck in fear. All of this and more. But what always helps me out of this morass is Mother Nature. In the spring of next year I’ll be publishing my newest version of Nature Teachers called Strength from Nature.
Today, I turned to one of my teachers, the Lobster. I hope you gain some growing, changing, new living perspective from this hearty marine crustacean that lives to get un-stuck when it’s at its most naked and fearful time. I bless this wondrous Nature Teacher for helping me find renewed strength to carry on in a world I barely understand right now. I hope it helps you as well…
“Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.”
“Remember when old ones died and new were born
And life was changed, disassembled, rearranged
We came together, fell apart
And broke each other’s hearts
Remember when…” -Alan Jackson
One of the favorite songs Pete and I love to play on our guitars is Alan Jackson’s “Remember When”—a beautifully heartfelt watercolor of life and death and all that good, bad and ugly stuff in between we call “life.” The song has always struck a deep chord for me in more ways than that of the instrumental kind. It summarizes what we all go through or are inevitably going to face. And it ends with the most poignant passage of all:
“We won’t be sad, we’ll be glad
For all the life we’ve had
And we’ll remember when…”
“Imagine all the people living life in peace…”Imagine, by John Lennon
My husband and I just returned from a beautiful vacation in Los Cabos, Mexico. It was gifted to us by his company as it was to all the top 2015 sales winners. Though Pete and I are not resort enthusiasts as our idea of a good time is being anywhere in untamed nature that has nothing to do with Piña Coladas and people, we were still grateful for the rare time-out together at the edge of the azure Sea of Cortez.
The colors of oceany blues—teals and lapis and cobalt—played with our senses to the point of veritable hypnosis. The fresh sea scents and gentle sounds of waves wherever you inhaled and slumped into a boneless heap of “what-the-hell” and simply gave into the luxury of decadence and beauty—all of it was truly a gift from the gods. And of course, Pete’s company.
There were so many images that reverberated for me during that Cabo Paradise but what has stayed with me the most to talk about today is the beauty and grace and warmth of the Mexican people themselves. I’ve always loved the Latin culture for its kindness, passion, artistry, their love of family and so much more. I couldn’t help but notice during my time spent unwinding that these people smile from their soul. In fact, so many of them would greet us with a cheerful, “Ola!” or “Welcome!” and then touch their hearts. It moved me.
I loved their music. Their striking beauty. The way the staff would relate to each other—laughing, speaking in animated conversations, working together as peacefully as the surrounding sea. There were no sharp edges to them. They reflected the cadence of their land. And I knew that life wasn’t easy for most of them. It wasn’t that long ago that I, too, was a server working along beside these splendid people who made the work—and the inequities of catering to the privileged—so much easier. In Cabo, we discovered that the average salary of most of the workers came to a little over $4.00 an hour. And yet many of them expressed gratitude to be working at the resort even though it was, for many of them far away from their own homes. Continue reading The Wall
“Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost
A few days ago, Pete and I headed for a Broadway musical playing in downtown San Diego—If/Then, starring Tony-award-winning Idina Menzel (Wicked, Rent, Frozen, Glee). I was so excited I could barely contain myself.
But as we slogged through the rainy streets towards our gleaming, sparkling theatrical goal, noting all the duded up patrons ahead of us and the warm, shining lights glowing within I couldn’t help but notice the other “patrons.” Those wandering nomads of the streets; most of them hidden under soggy tarps and trash bags, hunkered beneath awnings and tucked into doorways, pushing piles of refuse packed into rusty shopping carts. The homeless. So many of them. I could hear some of their whispers to each other as we passed by. My heart ached. Oh the line. The line is so fine between them and me.
I was instantly filled with equal parts of shame and gratitude. Sadness for them. Gladness that it wasn’t I caught in the rain but rather the I who was heading to a far more privileged path. Lucky me. Unlucky them. How fair was that? I wondered. Why me? Why them? Is it all luck? Fate? Choice? A Cosmic Coin Toss?
And that is kind of the theme of that startlingly incredible musical, If/Then. How did we end up here? What would have happened if one path/person/career was chosen over the other? That’s what they ask over and over again. And then reinforce the themes of Love While You Can; No More Wasted Time; Always Starting Over; and then one of my favorites “What The F–?”
“There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” –Mister Rogers
One of my earliest childhood memories was listening to my parents and their friends sing that song together. I never knew what it meant but it seemed to be sung on my birthday, which is December 31st, so I associated it with something to do with me—though the melody seemed sad. There was a feeling of farewell about it. So whether I carry that well of sorrow within me just because I’m me, or because of that first awareness of the balance of life—the goodbye/hello-ness of everything that one both celebrates and mourns often simultaneously—whatever it was and is “Auld Lang Syne” always gets to me.
And so it is that at this year-ending I pause to contemplate it all and the meaning of this song (awld lan zeyen), which is actually a traditional Scottish song, meaning “Time Long Past.” The eighteenth-century poet, Robert Burns, recorded the song for posterity. It simply means, old times, long friendships, long-ago days.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
~ Dr. Suess
I called him Scout because when he arrived in my life seventeen years ago, I thought he was a she and of course named the tiny drop of a kitten after one of my favorite Harper Lee characters from To Kill A Mockingbird.
Found in the woods by a Good Samaritan during a rain storm, the eensy creature was carried in a soggy paper bag to the Monterey police office where my dear friend, Kate, worked as a counselor. She called me up and said there was someone she thought I should meet. And she was right. The minute I saw him it was instant love. I learned that the kitty was the only survivor from a litter that had succumbed around him. And that’s the kind of mettle he carried with him throughout his life. He was tiny but tough. Had a don’t- mess-with-me “cat-itude” that somehow morphed into my own psyche as well. I learned from him. Although I did have to teach him to stop growling whenever someone went near his meal. He’d stretch his little feet over his cup and guard it with his life. That’s probably how he survived. I pushed the thought away that he might have offed his brothers and sisters for food. Scout? Nahhhh. Anyway, he soon trusted that he didn’t have to fight for his meals and relaxed into his innate sweetness.
At the beginning he had yet to be weaned from his abandoned momma so I fed him formula from a doll bottle. He’d often curl up in the hood of my bathrobe as I wrote at the computer and then when he was entirely satiated of sleep and food he’d ping-pong from room-to-room doing the kitty burst-and-fly-charge-and-hide dance. An absolute wild child, he drove his old cat brother, Quince, nearly out of his mind. I worried that having a tiny new buddy to harass him constantly wasn’t being fair to poor Quince—at that point being an ancient and creeky feline deserving of some peace and respect in his winter years. But the resulting Scout-onslaught proved to be positive. The little guy reawakened Quince’s inner cat and soon the two were chasing and pouncing all over each other. Scout gave his big bro some added quality years that were a gift.
Those who have been brave enough to drive with me through the years probably still have fingernail-scars imbedded in their palms from white-knuckling. I specialize in getting lost and rarely found. Have no sense of direction. And will never drive a freeway again unless you put a gun to my head.
That should set the stage for a recent drive I did with one of the best and most patient navigators ever. Did I say that he was sight-challenged, as in almost blind? True. I was directed through the San Diego traffic by my friend, an unseeing eye guide named Claude. A former biologist and “birder,” this amazing genius has socked away an inventory of facts—flora and fauna and a whole lot more—into his brilliant brain. And one recent morning he offered to share his wisdom and memorized street sense with my friend Willie and me.
I picked him up at his home, whereupon he proceeded to kindly sense my inward breathing as I sucked in the stress of traversing my way around praying I’d be able to keep my precious cargo safe. Diminutive Willie was wedged into the back seat and Claude, all six-plus-something of him trying to find comfort in the passenger side. Feeling the inside of the door his fingers touched one of the many rocks I have tucked inside the car. “Oh, rocks!” he smiled. “Yes,” I laughed. “I have them everywhere. And smooth stones.” We commiserated. It seems he collected them as well.
And so our adventure began with me carefully following his directions and faint sightedness (the blind leading the blind?) to an experience I’ll never forget. Following Claude’s lead we rounded SeaWorld Drive (Gag. I wish they’d change the name) from the Hilton Hotel to West Mission Bay Drive turning onto Quivira Road by making two left turns, heading south, and passing the Marina Village Conference Center as the road bent westward again. With each twist and turn, Claude would alert me ahead of time beforehand. I couldn’t believe it. Continue reading Blind Birding by the Bay