Every Christmas I waited for one gift. It would usually come a few days before Christmas, and it was never wrapped. But I knew it was coming, when I heard my uncle bound up the stairs, rather than plod one step at a time. “Is she here?” he’d bellow. I was always there. Where else would I have been?
As the only boy in his family, growing up with two sisters, one my mother, and a father who was more into gardening and puttering, than hunting or big physical exercise, I imagine he was thrilled when my mother was having a baby. I imagine he was a little disappointed when it was a girl.
But quickly he figured that it made no difference at all. And he would simply treat me like a boy. So, gifts of clothing, of which there were very few, were often blue sweaters or orange and black gloves and brown boots bought in the boy’s department. As I said, he didn’t buy clothing very often. What he did buy, though, was pretty spectacular. Especially for an “only child” being raised like a princess (as a recall). Barbies! Carriages! Baby dolls! All were plentiful. But they never came from my uncle.
No, when my uncle would come bounding up those stairs, I would just wait for it! What magical toy would it be? Lincoln Logs. Those little plastic Indians and Soldiers in their war stances. We’d play and make forts and have some big battles! Sets of tinker toys. And we’d build giant spaceship type structures. One time there were racing cars, complete with a curving roller coaster track. There was the police car, all black and white and heavy, that you could rev up by running it back and forth and then letting it go and the red light would shine and the siren would shriek. There was the police gear. And a badge I could wear. And we would play and run around the house. Never for very long, though. We’d start to play and then he’d run off to do some adult thing that he needed to do.
My mother would say “Sonny!” (what we always called my uncle) “Sonny! She’s a girrrllll!” But, I loved it all. The gun shot caps. Then he bought me real caps – the kind you stepped on and it sounded like pistol shots. There was a science kit or two, and then, one day, there was a “pearl” handled silver gun. It was big and heavy. You could cock it back and it would snap out a loud POP. I can still remember how it felt in my hand and how there were ridges on the inside of the hammer. Better, yet, this gun went into a holster – a black holster that went around my waist. Eventually I got a cowboy hat to go with it. And bullets on a cross strip. And boots. I was banned by my mother from playing outside dressed up like that because the neighbors might see. So I played inside. Lost in a world of Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Even Andy Griffith carried a gun! And, for that matter, Ellie Mae Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies prided herself on her shooting prowess.
As growing up will do to you, it changed things. And the Christmas came when the boy-toy didn’t get such a gleeful response from me; and it stayed unopened. “Hey, you didn’t open it… yet” he said, a few days in a row. Eventually the boy-toys stopped coming. Eventually we didn’t play together anymore.
These memories are vivid this year; the same year my uncle passed away at 92. I remember it because of how things have changed. And also for how they have not changed very much at all.
Today, gun toys for young children are not cool. But yet, they are on our shelves…waiting to be bought for little boys and little girls this Christmas. The violent video games target the slightly older children, whose unformed minds bounce between fantasy and reality. This December begins with terror. Terror from San Bernardino – but living inside all of us today. When we’re shopping at a crowded mall. Eating in a restaurant. Attending a concert. Now, when we’re at work at a holiday party?
Gun control. It seems an impossibility. The little tweaks are purposeful, but in fact, all the guns we will ever need are already out there. Guns are forever, but ammo degrades. It has a shelf life. Ammunition is gun food. If we can starve the guns a bit, or change the way ammunition sales are regulated and controlled, perhaps we can change the way guns are used. As Marc Ambinder wrote in The Week in 2012, “Guns need food. Starve them”. We can be distracted by all the focus on gun control – let us ask ourselves, what else can we do?
Here’s another thing we can do – we can ask to have these toys removed from our shelves. We can stop buying them. These are some of the gun type toys available for purchase on this one day in December in Rhode Island. They are at Benny’s, K-Mart, Toys ‘R Us, and Walmart stores.
The first store I visited was Toys R Us and while there were a few gun-like, nerf-type toys available, I didn’t see the more realistic looking, AK-47 types. When asked, the department manager told me, “I haven’t seen them here in this store in about 10 years. We stopped carrying them after Columbine.”
What will be our Christmas future? What terror will hold us close? How will we harden and adapt? Is this our new normal? I think about my children. My grandchildren yet to be. I hope they can find the answers. And we – the elders now – must stay engaged. Let us bring our memories of our own childhood and see what we can do to our tenuous hold on happiness and peace in our loved ones’ future. As Scrooge said at the final ghost appearance, “the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will!” Let us pray there is truth in this tale.
The first time had to be about five years ago. He was walking slowly down a city sidewalk, parallel to the four lanes of traffic – he walked against the two lanes closest to him. So, the drivers could easily see his face as he walked. You couldn’t overlook him or let him meld into the background, much as we often like to do when we’re disturbed by a person’s physical appearance. This man walks with his head slightly down, long, black, slightly wavy hair, parted in the middle. Thick black eyebrows. He is slim and tall. He wears khaki cargo pants, the kind with lots of pockets and a little polyester so they have a bit of a swish to them as he takes his strides. They fit close to his body, and hang low on his hips. A black jacket hangs from his broad shoulders, past his thin waist. He did not walk on the main part of the sidewalk, but similar to the cars being driven in their thin lanes, he walked on the cement curb, one foot in front of the other. He is barefoot. The walk reminds me of that of a runway model and how they place the toe of one foot precisely behind the heel of the foot in front of it. He didn’t totter. Not at all. Neither did he raise his hands out to the side to balance like a tightrope walker. He simply walked, in a steady, strong, slow cadence. He walked with – grace. I remember thinking that the straight posture and balance came from something – dance classes? Fitness or core strengthening exercises? Gymnastics? Modeling, perhaps? It was a trained walk.
Years before I had seen this man in my neighborhood. The neighborhood is not known for having homeless people walking about. Almost never. There was an occasional disheveled looking person walking to a bus shelter, carrying a white plastic bag, with little in it. You could tell by the way it hung from the wrist. I’d imagine toothpaste, toothbrush, maybe a bottle of water? Over the last few years there were just a few people with these white plastic bags. You knew only a fraction of their story by seeing them – the part of their deep, convoluted, complicated story – the part they could no longer hide.
This man stayed in the neighborhood season after season. He would just appear one day. If the weather was cool he wore that long black coat – similar to an oilskin duster worn on a ranch – and work boots. In warm weather he would walk without shoes. That’s when he took to walking toe to heel on the cement curb rather than the sidewalk.
One day my daughter said she thought he looked like Jesus – Jesus walking so gracefully, so quietly, with a presence that belied his obvious present lot in life.
There have been a few times when his eyes have met mine as I looked out from behind my steering wheel. And there was the unexpected meeting in the supermarket. He was picking out a few pieces of fruit and I saw his eyes as he looked up at me with his head still bent downward. I was startled. Kind, deep, filled with “knowing” – and, somehow, familiar. I did not know him, yet the familiarity factor was there, and it startled as it commanded to be seen. It wasn’t like the wild eyes of the deranged, but a kind and steady, sure look. A “don’t look over or around me” look. A look “at” me look.
I watched him walk through the fresh produce section, and maneuvering slowly around displays. Grace. An athlete’s grace. A dancer’s grace. Maybe an angel’s grace. This Jesus was food shopping.
It was then for several years that he was absent . When I would see a person panhandling for donations at the end of an off ramp, I would often think of Jesus. Where had he gone? Had it been time to move on? Had he died? Was he sick, in the hospital, or more likely, in prison? He would never have been standing at an off ramp. That I knew.
My daughter recently moved to the city over from mine. This morning it was quiet in my kitchen as a text message came over my phone from her. “I just saw Jesus! Walking near TGI Fridays – he’s down the highway. He’s making his way south!!” So, he was back, but had moved on a little further away from me. It isn’t warm enough yet for him to walk barefoot. Will he stay close by, or is he steadily moving south – a little late in the season for a RI snowbird migration. Do the nomadic homeless go south for the winter? Do they walk all the way to Florida?
Now my daughter will look for him, this Jesus walking. A little more disheveled, and looking a little bit older. With the perfect posture and the dancer’s cadence. Walking with grace. Maybe she will see Jesus food shopping. And he will look up at her with his deep kind eyes – eyes that held his life’s story behind them. Eyes that simply say, “I am here.”
There are different kinds of memories. Events and happenings. Climactic moments. Hallmark days, such as a wedding, a funeral, a graduation. There are other memories that run deeper. Memories of…scents…sounds…sight. Memories of emotion and feeling are perhaps the strongest. The overwhelming moment when something happened inside of you; it changed the way you thought or felt about something. Like you could almost feel your brain morphing. The light bulb went on. The “aha” moment. The door shutting – for good this time – on a path of the past, a path that had been worn down and was going nowhere, and you struggled to get out of its rut, and now you can. These moments are, as they say, more ’emblazoned in our memories’ – because they go to our core – our heart and soul – they become more memorable because we were changed in that moment, that moment that we’ll always remember. We are different going forth.
This week the President gave an interview on radio which was somewhat controversial – but he stood rock solid, with a smile to his critics. Something had changed in him. A light bulb moment. An “aha” moment. A door shutting, or perhaps opening. He put it simply when he said it: “I’m fearless now.” With that familiar jaunty full-faced smile we see more of these days.
This week I listened to a speech made by our new “fearless” President, this new Barack Obama. And as he was expected to do, but no one could have truly anticipated, he gave a rousing one. But he went beyond rousing. He made a substantive one. He used high emotion, tragedy and deliverance to talk about issues that our country has yet to solve – poverty, poor educational systems, unfair housing, gun control, mass incarceration, jobs, racism, subtle prejudice – and he couched it all in the word “grace”. Not “hope”, but “grace”.
And as natural as the gently waving program books in that church of 5,400 people – and in our homes and offices as we listened – our President began to sing. Low and deep he began. With the words, “Amazing grace. How sweet the sound…”.
I closed my eyes. I wanted to remember this day. Friday, June 26, 2015. I wanted to emblazon its memory into my mind. I wanted it to change me. I wanted to call my children to gather and listen, but I was frozen watching this all transpire. And as I thought of my children, grown and working now, I remembered Tuesday, January 20th, 2009. My daughters were 20 and 22. Just coming of age in this adult world. We sat in the living room with snacks. Dip and chips, Guacamole, Nachos, and fruit. We wore our baseball caps of red, white and blue – one for each of us – with the word “HOPE” stitched right on them. And we watched our President take the oath of office. He delivered another speech that day – and it was a rousing great one, too.
I remember thinking back to another day – September 11th, 2001. The day when hope died. When ‘future’ seemed grim and hard to imagine. My daughters were 12 and 14. I knew on that day as I watched them come home from school, that their lives had changed. Forever. 2001 began a time of war and fear in our country – faded only somewhat into the hope and change promised to us in 2009. Things seemed so bright. There was hope again.
Six years we have walked this path with the first black president in our country’s history. We have seen polarization and stagnation – and yes, we have seen change, and progress. Healthcare. Immigration. Employment. Yesterday we watched as same-sex marriage become the law of the land – and in a moment of glory and grace it became – just – “Marriage”.
We have watched our President age and turn grey. The memory of that promised hope has tinged grey, too. But he has moved beyond hope. As legacy looms in his mind and for history, he has moved the conversation along and called upon ‘grace’. He says he’s fearless now. He carries this new state of being with him, as he carries forth with a song from deep inside. He’s making new memories. With new words. Grace. Fearless. Legacy. He says he would have been a better president – today – than he was. Self-awareness is not lacking here.
But what can we learn? Have we learned that “hope and change” is not a plan? Do we need to conjure up some grace to lead ourselves along? And, if we can conjure up being fearless…think what we might do? Legacy looms closer at my age. The older-agers that 20 year olds grow weary of having around, are so important to moving hope and change along. The young-invincibles with a lifetime ahead of them, with things we need in this country – spark, energy, new ideas, and yes, hope. But fear stalks the young. It limits them. It holds them back. Fear of speaking out. Of repercussions. Of loss of friends, colleagues, or opportunities. Of career short-circuiting. Of brass-ring missing.
But with the legacy years comes a sense of fearlessness. And that is power. Yes, it’s time to perfect the chocolate chip cookies – to be remembered forever for. And to try for that hole in one. But let’s not drift away too far. Together, wrapped in hope, wrapped by grace, together, think what memories we could make. Think what legacies there could be, not just for us as people, but for these United States.
My “Bella” is a long-haired, black-and-white “Tuxedo” rescue cat. Her veterinarian, Dr. Cathy Lund, opened an all-cat practice in 1998 in Providence, RI. As her website states, she thought being an all-cat vet was just “purr-fect for her”.
I work on the fringes of healthcare, now, usually in promotions or marketing for a particular advocacy initiative or to raise funds for the cause du jour. However, I spent over 25 years engrossed in healthcare – most of it in the marketing end of a large, national nonprofit. Some of it as a communications professional for a small local hospital in an urban setting.
I spend a great deal of observation time these days looking at healthcare and its changes, improvements, and fragmentation bringing those professional perspectives to bear. A year or so back I looked at these issues from the inside, when my daughter had a short and sudden illness. But, a few times a year I look at it from the perspective of a cat. A black and white perspective, you might say. And each time I wonder, what lessons can be learned from the world of vet care to the world of human health care about a more patient-centric system.
First, I imagine how her medical record “notes” section might read:
“Bella is now in her 13th year, and is relatively healthy, though has struggled with mild obesity for most of her life. Her weight-loss attempts appear to have been exacerbated by a psychological need to overeat, perhaps as a coping mechanism resulting from post traumatic stress disorder of unknown origin, occurring early in life. Genetic traits are unknown, as Bella was taken in as a homeless stray at a few months of age. Our family accepted Bella into a home that had experienced a recent loss of two adult cats to old age. Bella’s earliest days included gender confusion, as she was first thought to be male and referred to as Mason. She was also aware of early desires to take her to a shelter and adopt her out to another home. However, these additional early traumas soon resolved themselves, and Bella acclimated well into her forever family. “
Bella, which translates to “The Beautiful One,” aptly describes the prominent place she has taken in the family.
While Bella has not had any extraordinary illness, other than a mini-surgical procedure for a five-foot long piece of string down her esophagus and the extraction of several teeth, she is not an easy patient. Her unknown past, and suspicion of being feral, has meant a delicate handling. All eyes are on prevention. Preventive care has meant regular check-ups, shots, nail clipping, and blood work. It has also meant dealing with a progressively standoffish attitude, which has deepened with age into full-blown rage at invasive examinations and the sight of any other feline. Her “mental health problem” has exacerbated the provision of her medical care. Bella does not take well to invasive procedures, yet requires regular examinations of nails, teeth, and ears. Inoculations. Blood work. Cautionary procedures include full-length protective gloves for all medical staff. Mild sedation is recommended. Experimental prescription of valium proved to be ineffective and was halted.
Throughout her years of care, reminder postcards and e-mails are received when it’s time for a check-up. Appointments are made on the phone or by request over the website. You can even request an appointment on Facebook; there’s an app for that. Waiting time is less than a week [same day if there is a crisis, and phone calls returned within an hour, if needed]. Appointments are confirmed by e-mail, and again, a few days before the appointment, there will be another e-mail and a phone call, along with any special instructions, such as nothing to eat and drink after midnight. The day of the appointment there is no waiting, and because Bella is a mild-sedation patient, a first-in appointment is always available, so the distress of not eating or drinking since midnight is not too discomforting. When she is brought in, given her mild state of a building mental health crisis, she is talked to calmly and gently by staff. They pet her paw through the gate of her carrier and she is quickly taken in.
In an attempt to take care of her quickly, due to her sedation, one can only envision the Mario Andretti racing team pit crew being called to her tableside. They swoop down and, in quick order, in less than half an hour, the care is done. Using sedation on an older cat is a concern that grows with age, so the quicker, the better. Their specialists have come together, each taken his/her turn – nails, teeth, ears, shots, blood work, a little shaving here and there, and good to go. Recovery is almost immediate as the sedation wears off. With a groggy “hisssss”, we know all is well.
There are follow-up instructions and education at the front desk. A quick checkout and then the next appointment is set. There is the constant reassurance, explanations, and calm demeanor. There is even a pat on the back for me, when I’ve needed it. We are good to go. Within a few hours of being home, City Kitty will call to see how Bella is doing and if I, her caretaker, have any questions. They refer to her by name and speak in an unhurried manner. Later that afternoon I will get an email. It asks us to submit a review: how did we do, and are there any suggestions? A few days later, there is another call. How is Bella? We’re thinking of her. Here is the result of her tests. Guess what? She is at her ideal weight! May she live long and well, and just call us with anything.
I am often struck by the quality of the “kitty care” provided to Bella – and what we could learn from it that might be applied to “health care” provided to humans.
Slow down might be a start. Look the family and the patient in the eye. Call the patient by name. Speak as if you genuinely care, because I assume you do. Don’t be afraid to touch the patient, or put your arm around a family member or caretaker. Repeat instructions. Ask if there are questions. Ask again. Provide information. And, educate and follow up, in several ways, by e-mail and again on the phone. Have a website that has a picture of the patient and their information, too, so they can see their records.
Keep good records. Have a resource link that is tailored for different types of patients and conditions. Tell us about who works there – not just their medical credentials, but a little bit of the personal, too – and perhaps show us their photo. Include a way on your website, or by e-mail or on social media, for us to ask you to call us, or to make an appointment.
Bella’s birthday is in February. She will be 14. She will receive a birthday postcard from City Kitty – and an email greeting, too – just as she has every year.
As published in the June 8th issue of ConvergenceRI
Yes, I’ve seen the movie and bought and read all the books. I am 50 Shades of Grey literate. I watched the live debut in London yesterday afternoon, on the internet, complete with the red carpet walk, and interviews with the producer and the writer who said she never dreamed she would be at a debut of a movie made from her books.
I thought the movie would not live up to the books, such as they are. Regardless of the success, or not, of the movie, the success of the books cannot be denied – if you judge success on books sold and money made. 100 million women anticipated to have read it. The formula these days seems to be in writing trilogies and in something that lends itself well to images, blogs, and social media – to hype the hype. 50 Shades has all of this. The book – as in any book – brings images to mind. Images that are as private as the image of each of us reading the book – in our easy chairs, in bed, late at night, on our computers, or ipads, hidden in our offices, or even reading on our cell phones, if we didn’t want to have the book in the house.
As the movie has come closer to opening, we hear a variety of words – anticipatory giggles, “when are you going”, “are you going with your husband”, “…with your boyfriend”, or “with the girls”? We hear angry words, mainly from women. Women talking about violence towards women, disrespect, abuse, and challenging each other to boycott the movie on behalf of the cause of feminism. Or we hear psychologists talk about the damage it will cause to young girls. We hear little from men. They say it’s a chick flick. And they don’t know what it’s about.
The Valentine’s Day opening was moved to the 13th, so ladies could go with their lady friends and still have their date nights on the 14th. Would couples attend together? Would there be giggles? Shifting in one’s seat? Sighs of mutual acknowledgement? Nods to each other when we leave the theater? Rushes to our cars? Would we post our thoughts on Facebook? Or would we be as quiet as we were in the private time when we read the book? Alone with our thoughts. With our ponderings. With a smattering of confusion.The theater was filled. Mainly women, but a few with male dates, too. We began with quiet applause, as if we had all been waiting a very long time in our lives. Popcorn at the ready, we snuggle down. Women in sweat pants and comfy clothes, no dress-up needed. There is humor in this film. Mainly it is comedic timing and natural instinct by Dakota Johnson. Jamie Dornan does not meet our expectations of Mr. Grey as neatly. How could any actor meet what each of us had imagined and created in our own minds? A little too slim. Curling up of the upper lip makes him always appear as about to giggle. Shoulders not broad enough. Though his hands are striking, and brought about an audible gasp from the audience as he clasped a table edge.
In my opinion, the movie is not about BDSM or violence against women. Or degradation. Or disrespect. It simply isn’t about any of that. It is about the fantasy. The fantasy of what women – mainly older women – might think about – sometimes. Maybe it’s even an offering of a fantastical thought, should the woman have run fresh out of them. The exploitations that may roll around in one’s mind, while the reality of acting upon any of it would equal the chagrin of a couple watching mid-core porn in a hotel room. Really, honey? But we might think about it. We might.
So, just what is the appeal of all of this experimental sex? What were the sexiest moments? Were they the riding crop, or were they by the piano listening to him play a haunting melody? Were they the necktie around her wrists, or were they taking her up on an air glider, a day completely planned by him, from beginning to end?
As I sit writing this I am listening to some “national expert” talking about the grave damage this movie will do to young girls….and I think about Bill Clinton and his declaration of “I did not have sex with that woman”. I think about how oral sex replaced intercourse by definition for young girls in an instant. And how a “goodnight, I had a nice time” with a kiss, became lost to the acceptable act of quick oral sex. One sided, I would add. How has HPV been spread exponentially? By young people – men & women – believing an STD could not be spread this way. Because this is not sex. The president said so. Talk to young women today. The sexual act, for many of them, is about their performance with their man. Not about receiving pleasure, or sexual skill of their partner. It is yet another giving act – much like making dinner, and doing the laundry. And if the money equation is tipped on the male’s side, even more.
50 Shades of Grey is fantasy. Speaking as a feminist, I believe men probably don’t get it (nor will they take the time to read or watch), so we need to tell them how we are feeling about it. It is not the black and white of sexual pleasure. It is the grey of our lives, of our minds, of our exhaustion. It is the grey of our feelings – of what might be, or could have been. It is a lifetime of fairy princesses and handsome princes, with broken promises for our lives, watched when we were very young. To be followed next by Donna Reed and Lucy and Laura & Dick Van Dyke. We have the ‘right’ to equal pay and our careers. Yet our “before” lives and responsibilities remain largely intact, too; just with more stacked upon it, very little removed or replaced. Many of us do all of this while also being the sandwiched caretakers of our aging parents. And still we hear we aren’t doing enough and that we need to “lean in” and do more. Be more.
The fantasy is freedom. It is putting our shoulders down and not worrying about what is for dinner or the buying and cooking of it, or where we will go if we go out (pick the restaurant, arrange for the babysitter, get the concert tickets, call the friends). It’s not worrying about buying our own car, or servicing it. Or paying all the bills. It’s not even thinking about what we will wear. It’s about looking good, being fit, being healthy, being taken care of. It is a fantasy of release.
But as the books and the movies are clear to reveal, the control in this fantasy is always the woman’s. She realizes it herself, half way through. Nothing is done to her she has not consented to, or actually asked for. Her inquisitiveness did take her a little too far, but sometimes that happens with a safe situation and a mind free to wander.
This movie is not for the young, and certainly not for tweens. Much damage has already been done by an ex-President, and what we watch on our televisions every day. Sex mixed with violence is power. Not sex. 50 Shades of Grey is none of those things. It is mature content, for a mature life. It is a gentle, ‘what if’. It is not a blonde princess spinning on the ice singing about her true love. It is, however, fodder for conversation between couples about that private part of their lives.
The fact that this movie is about to enjoy success at a time when the popular movies are showing some of our more famous female actresses at their worst – no makeup, abused, beaten, raped, going through physical challenges, etc. is an interesting coincidence. This time, we seem to want another fantasy. In the yin and yang of life, this time we want to be the woman offered an easier life, love, and consensually great sex (and of course we want control). But sometimes we also want to be seen as the woman who has been torn to the ground and has risen again, scathed and damaged, but alive, and the wiser for it, too. A survivor.
We are a complicated hot mess. We are not black and white. We’ve earned every one of those fifty shades of grey.