Plasticity – Elasticity – and Amazing Resiliency!

In the time I’ve written this blog, 2 more names have surfaced in the tsunami of Hollywood sexual assault stories.  #MeToo on steroids now – all around us.  It is as if you are assumed guilty – until proven innocent. 
So many other hard things in the world – harassment – or bad things – descending upon us. How do we survive – those who do?  Press conferences – lawsuits – therapy? All tools to use to get a sense of vindication – or a way to shout ‘no more’ – but does all that do anything to heal – or are we “thrown helplessly like puppets” from one behavioral and emotional extreme to the other – perhaps with a few bucks in our pocket, if we’re lucky….perhaps with nothing but the experience festering into our soul.
Do we have a choice?  Are we blades of grass swinging this way and that, but always returning to a more or less ramrod straight position?  Or are we skinny twigs – ready to snap at the slightest insult?
If we’re blades of grass – how fortunate are we?  If we’re parents, what can we do to help our children?  We won’t always be there…protecting them, getting between them and harm in all the lonely places they must walk.
How do we teach resiliency?  How do we teach how to sway back and forth – take the time – and return to ramrod straight?  If we learn how to do this it will be a lifelong skill – a lifelong art – that will do them well. I believe years ago that we taught each other more deeply how to do that.  Have we lost that basic core? Maybe it starts with expecting that we will all be ok – there, there, it will.  And minute after minute – quite deliberately – quite mindfully – one day soon – it will be. We may be dented and damaged, or ever so more cautious – but we are back and strong and moving forward.
 
Here is an article that will help you be that resilient self – and will give you some resources to learn how to help others become that, too.

Reprinted here:

Happiness isn’t a country.

You don’t get there and stay. It’s a fleeting space, a feeling that comes and goes, so focusing on being happy is just a distraction, according to some psychologists. Better to develop resilience, which is a characteristic that you can cultivate to improve the quality of your life in any circumstances.Resilience is essentially emotional elasticity, the ability to manage changes and difficulties. It’s the ability to deal with life’s vicissitudes with some grace, not being derailed by every failure, mistake, or shift in circumstances. The skill is worth learning, says psychologist Anna Rowley—who counsels executives at corporations like Microsoft on cultivating existential “mastery”—because emotional flexibility is exceptionally handy in our rapidly-changing world. Resilience provides you with a personal foundation of strength and sense of safety.

Rowley doesn’t talk about happiness at all. She argues that Americans are culturally obsessed with feeling good when, instead, we should be perfecting perception, our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Rather than dealing with difficulties, Rowley says, people tend to “cope ugly.” We numb ourselves with food, drink, drugs, stuff, sex, or the internet, hoping not to feel anything at all if we can’t just feel happy.

Those efforts to hide from suffering are futile, Rowley says. We learn little from hiding. But by engaging with negative emotions, and learning to see they’re fleeting, we can get better at dealing generally. And every feeling or situation we manage wisely builds on our resilience skills. “Resilience is like a super coping mechanism,” Rowley told Quartz. “It protects against stress in any situation.”

Stretch, don’t bounce.

Coping sounds kind of dull compared to happiness but failing to do so can lead to depression. According to writer and clinical psychiatrist Peter Kramer, emotional resilience ensures mental health, and is the opposite of depression. “Depression is fragility, brittleness, lack of resilience, a failure to heal,” Kramer writes in his 2005 book Against Depression.

Developing resilience won’t bring happiness but it can help you avoid depression and teach you to heal yourself when you do suffer. Learning to deal will improve your quality of life, says Rowley, yet to get good at it demands facing and engaging the very thing we seek to avoid, most notably our own bad feelings.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Resilience…means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” Rowley differs slightly on this. She argues that “bouncing back” is just an aspect of this skill and not the one that comes first. It would be better, she says, if we learned how to gently and continually stretch ourselves instead of bouncing around. “Rebounding is important but you can’t learn from experience if you hurry,” the psychologist argues.

“Rebound alone takes the personal accountability out of situations and leaves you with no locus of control. What we really need is emotional literacy, to be able to look at our actions and recognize the role of choice in events.”

You are not what you feel

The late Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and writer, spent half a century studying the minds of people with chronic brain diseases, patients who operated at neurological extremes—some operated super fast, some very slow, some were deeply depressed, others were manic, and some patients alternated between extreme states. In his last just-released book, The River of Consciousness, Sacks refers to resilience as the “middle ground” that gives people mental control and stability. Without it, he notes, patients are “thrown helplessly like puppets” from one behavioral and emotional extreme to the other.

Sacks’ patients suffered from neurological deficits that made it impossible for them to regulate themselves and develop resilience naturally. Most people, however, do have what it takes. If you’ve made it this far in life, you’ve already displayed amazing resilience, and Rowley says you can get better at it.

You don’t have a choice about getting sick or getting laid off from a job, say. But you do have a choice about how you respond to what happens emotionally, and the response will influence how far you fall, how fast you get back on your feet, and what you yield from your difficult experience. To practice responding appropriately, you must get to know yourself emotionally, says Rowley.

You do it by paying attention. Developing a habit of attentiveness is fundamental to building resilience. You can practice with a deceptively simple exercise that the psychologist uses herself and with clients: On the way to work, say, in your car, name three to five things you see, sense, and hear, Rowley suggests. For example, you see traffic is crawling, the sun is climbing in the sky, and that the car in from of you is blue. You sense a chill in the air, that your fingertips are cold against the steering wheel, and that the driver behind you is impatient as he inches closer to your bumper. You hear the hum of traffic on surrounding freeways, angry honking of horns, and the squawking of birds flying overhead.

Making simple mental lists like this might seem silly at first. Who cares about the birds? You’ve got important worries!

But Rowley says the lists teach you simple perceptual shifts from internal to external realities, and help you to see clearly in the moment. She practices the exercise herself as well, every day. When you practice moving between your inner self and the outer world, you stop being a prisoner to emotions and are able to simply note what is, explains Rowley. This helps you make better, fact-based decisions.

No one thing you do today will guarantee your flourishing in the future, warns Rowley. Developing the skill of resilience, however, means you don’t have to fear the failures, mistakes, and changes that lie ahead for all. The confidence that comes from knowing you can manage tough circumstances, makes difficult situations easier to handle, and that is certainly happy news.

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Old enough to remember…

I wrote to the author of this hidden little piece, below, in today’s New York Times: “Thank you for sharing this – I think back to all the Sunday rides we took as a family – it was my mother who was the adventurer – spontaneously calling out – turn here! – to my dad, who just did whatever she told him to. And I giggled at the adventure – for no more cost than an ice cream if we found a place, or some french fries, maybe. Sometimes, summer tomatoes from a fruit and vegetable stand. No worries about the price of gas.

I was much too structured with my children – wish I had transferred the carefree spontaneity of my mom (but I suppose there’s still time)…

My treat on my birthday – which today is – is to spend most of the day with my all-too-grownup girls – I hope for giggles and memories – less worry and fret – less planning and structure – as our world’s concerns have descend upon them like a heavy cloak.  I can no longer protect – distract – cocoon them – with arts and crafts, or food, or entertainment. I suppose there were worldly concerns in my childhood, back on those dusty Sunday road trips – but I don’t remember what they were.

This world’s dark and ominous cloud needs aggressive bands of sunlight – people who can drag us out with inconsequential moments of wonder.

Maybe that’s my role now.  I’ve done far too much planning and prodding and pulling them along. So I’ll go back to the moments … some of which have already been forgotten.  “Do you remember that? When we went to Maine, just the three of us? When we went to the beach in our clothes because we didn’t bring suits?”  – “No, not really…” Sigh…

Maybe they are not “old enough” yet – to remember. Anyone near my age will know what I mean…

I encourage them to write, to journal, to blog, to keep boxes of memories…because one day something will come back to them…and they’ll giggle and pause – and maybe, when it is their time they will take their little ones spontaneously to Maine – or to the Cape – without a reservation, with no bags packed.  Or, they could go on a Sunday drive – and shout out, “turn here”!

Thanks to author Christina Baker Kline…

“At the steering wheel my father consults his large paper map, turning it this way and that, squinting at the small blue lines that squiggle through tiny Maine coastal towns. He’s heard that the author E.B. White’s house is somewhere around here, and he’s determined to find it.

My mother, next to him in the passenger seat of our rusty gold station wagon with my baby sister on her lap, raises her eyebrows at my other two sisters and me, free-ranging in the second row. It’s the early 70s, and seatbelts haven’t caught on yet. We gaze back at her, knowing that once Dad gets an idea into his head, it’s almost impossible to stop him. We range in age from 1 to 10 (I’m the oldest), and all of us are literally and figuratively along for the ride. Besides, we’re excited at the prospect of meeting this author we already feel we know. We’ve been lulled to sleep every night by the soft cadence of my dad’s Southern accent as he reads us stories about a wise spider and a hapless pig, a resourceful mouse and a mute swan.

Dad pulls off the road into the dusty parking lot of a country store with a lone gas pump, and gets out of the car. We hear him chatting with the attendant through the open window. “Sure is nice around here.”

The guy shrugs.

My sisters and I glance at each other. Rural Mainers tend to be stranger-wary and small-talk averse. But as usual, Dad doesn’t seem to notice. “You lived here long?”

“Ayuh.” Amazingly, before long, and with only a little coaxing, the attendant is telling Dad about his grandkids and his lobster boat and pointing off into the distance, giving him the intel he’s come for. “Mr. White lives right over that hill there. Privet hedge in front. Can’t miss it.”

Back on the road, my sister Cynthia ventures, “Isn’t it rude to show up on someone’s doorstep without asking?”

Dad grins and winks at us in the rear view mirror. “He’ll be flattered.”

We pull up to the farmhouse to find a courtly white-haired man trimming the hedge with a set of clippers. “It’s him!” Dad whispers. He rolls down his window and leans out. “Hello, good sir!” The man seems a little nonplussed. “I have a car full of young readers here who’d give anything to meet their favorite author. A word from you, and they’ll remember this moment for the rest of their lives.” What choice does the poor man have? Within a few minutes, the famously reclusive E.B. White is demonstrating to a cluster of little girls in bathing suits that when you crush pine needles between your fingers and hold it to your nose, the smell is as strong as patchouli. And Dad is right — we never will forget it.

The writer E.B. White passed along an appreciation for the scent of crushed pine needles to the author and her sisters when they arrived at his house unannounced in August 1973. Credit Courtesy of the Baker family.

My childhood was rife with moments like this. Dad was always going out on a limb, befriending people who didn’t necessarily seem to want new friends, trespassing on private property, pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior in quest of adventure. His philosophy was that you don’t need money or plans, only a willingness to be present in the moment and to go where inspiration takes you. If you don’t, you’ll miss the entire point of being alive.

Raised dirt poor in rural Georgia by a mill worker mother and a father who often went to the bar rather than home after work, Dad learned early on that his quickest route up the social ladder was through charm and smarts. He got himself to college — the first in his family — on a football scholarship, then used seminary to springboard to a doctorate in a foreign land.

As a young academic in the ‘60s, he grew to reject traditional values and had scant respect for the social codes of privilege. At parties, he could often be found talking to the bartender or a 95-year-old Irish grandmother in the kitchen rather than the hosts. A Southerner through and through, even after moving to Maine, he was constitutionally incapable of walking down a street in New York without stopping to chat with doormen, bodega owners and homeless people. He never met a taxi driver whose story he didn’t want to know. Dad’s unorthodox and sometimes embarrassing friendliness got him, and us, into trouble now and then. Some people didn’t take kindly to probing questions. Others found his puppy-dog openness suspect or unsophisticated. But his innate, bottomless curiosity about the world also taught his four daughters to be open to new experiences and comfortable with improvisation. Even now, in his late 70s, he lives each day with a kind of purposeful recklessness, asking provocative questions and seeking new experiences in the belief that he can break through to something better, more meaningful, more satisfying.

Though my parents had little money, they took us on adventures all over the world. Driving through Scotland in a rainstorm, we pulled over to the side of the road and rode the wild ponies grazing by the fence. We coaxed a stray lamb over to our rented R.V. to feed it. One year my father switched houses, cars, teaching jobs, committees and pets with a professor in Melbourne, Australia, sight unseen. Another year our family of six flew to Crete without a plan; at the airport Dad bought a map and started asking random strangers, with the help of a woefully inadequate Greek phrase book: “What should we do?” “Where should we stay?”

This spontaneity meant that we missed flights, lost luggage, drove on perilous roads late at night, stayed in some cold-water hovels, and sometimes went hungry. But it also yielded beautiful surprises: an undiscovered beach, a fisherman’s hut with a breathtaking view, a hillside breakfast of goats’ milk yogurt and fresh honey that I still remember 35 years later. It led to his daughters’ sense of the world not as a huge frightening place but as a wonderland ripe for discovery.

The Maine farmhouse in Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting “Christina’s World” was not yet a museum or even open to the public when my father got it into his head — soon after our ambush of E.B. White — to take a family field trip there. Following his usual routine, he pulled into the small village of Cushing and asked a local how to find the Olson house. When we arrived (no doubt trespassing), we picnicked in the field where the woman in the pink dress in the painting had lain. Looking up at that weathered gray house on the hill, and hearing the story of the woman with my name who spent her lifetime there, I was entranced. Years later, I drew on that experience to tell my own story of the painting in my new book.

There’s no doubt that my dad’s endless curiosity has shaped who I am. I often find myself — to my own kids’ embarrassment — chatting with strangers in lines, accepting spontaneous invitations, and seeking out-of-the-way adventures.

I think the most important thing I learned from my dad is that when you go out on a limb there’s a risk it will break, but you’ll get a whole new perspective on the world. And if you’re really lucky, it can feel like flying. ‘

Terror at Christmas

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Christmas past…

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.

Christmas present…

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.”

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Christmas Future…

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.

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I saw Jesus again today.

little-boy-walks-road-curb-sepia-high-definition-video-fps-sec-please-look-another-footages-my-train-arrival-account-45180160-1The 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.”

“I am fearless now….”

th-2There 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…”.

Amazing-GraceI 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.

getPartI 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.

520976963_295x166But 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.

We are every one of those 50 shades of grey…

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.1423712148300The 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?

bill-clinton-monica-lewinsky-affair-ftrAs 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.

1246217_1373593008227_fullThe 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.

765d00dde9d4099d_reese-on-setThe 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.

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“We” are not amused…

It is almost a knee jerk reaction.  I hear a politician tell us “I need you to…” or “I will be asking for this in my budget…” and I’ve already had a gut reaction to the start of the sentence, such that I really don’t hear what comes after that.  I imagine myself on that podium, saying that sentence.  And I realize that the word I would be so hard for me to utter.  In writing, yes, I can use it.  But in speaking?  To a group?  No, I just sticks in my throat.  But why?

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Linguistically, there is the use of the royal “we”.  First, made famous by Queen Victoria when a vulgar joke was told in her presence. When she replied, “we are not amused”, she “clearly intended to speak on behalf of the other ladies whom she knew were equally offended.” Later, used by royalty to note the collective body of a politically organized nation – most commonly used as a term of separation – them and those – we and they – the intelligentsia and the peasants.

The use of pronouns such as I and we are called functional words.  When used by politicians, the choice can mean the difference between claiming authority and creating community.

There are even studies done about one’s mental state and the use of these functional words.  More people who are suffering from depression use I as opposed to we or they.  Kind of fascinating.

Having spent almost an entire career in the world of nonprofits, I learned quickly that the use of we was, indeed, to build community. And not at all spoken like the “royal we”.  What seemed so odd, at first, became rote.  “We hope you will…we ask you…we thank you.”  Sometimes I felt almost like turning around to see who else was standing there with me.  Never the bolder use of I.  Never as though the individual, the staff member, even existed, except as a title of function, certainly not a separate person. What mattered was the greater good, the cause.

I would like you to donate a major gift towards research.” Imagine! “I would like you to?”  “We need you to donate a major gift towards research.”  OK, but who is the we?  The we is you – and me – and collectively, all of us.

So, staff were in the background, writing the words, designing the photo opp, poised with conductor’s baton, or wind up key, if you will.  It was an adjustment – to deny one’s self – personality – personae – to become invisible.  But soon I came to understand the benefit of this group-being. So, for 20 years I was on behalf of and quite content in that role.  It was deemed to be a best practice of success for a nonprofit.

Today, the role of staff in a nonprofit is quite different.  Today the staff member is often front and center.  Someone whose life has never been touched by the disease du jour is speaking at a podium about the tragedies of some type of cancer they’ve never had.  Often, the volunteers or ‘survivors’ are right there, and willing to speak, but they are not invited to do so.  It is the staff member’s job now.  One they may truly love and be dedicated to.  But one with distance built all around it. Between community – and cause.

All this goes through my mind when I hear the word I spoken by an elected official, over and over again.  What is the purpose?  It must be to reinforce one’s role of power, surely not to build a sense of community – not to sing kumbaya with the people at all.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vo9AH4vG2wA

I think about the organization I worked for and how the tagline, or slogan, it used, changed over the years, reflecting part of this new word order. “We’re fighting for your life.”  Outwardly focused. Inclusive. Involving. Engaging.  “I’M not fighting for your life.  YOU are not fighting…WE are fighting.”  Kumbaya. Exponential engagement!

Today, that slogan has morphed to several others, with degrees of warm and fuzzy. “Learn and Live”  (don’t listen to me and you’ll find out for yourself);  “Your Life is in Your Hands” (it’s up to you, do what you want, you know what you need to do)’ and, today, “Life is Why”. (we’re tired of giving you all the reasons why – you should know why by now).

We have made today’s politicians into caricatures of themselves.  The media has done that.  And we expect it now.  We tweet about the color of the Governor’s jacket and how her hair looked on any one day.  Our obsessiveness would lead one to believe that we have relegated them to use the “royal we”, yet we have created a new level beyond that. Today politicians ask us to do things, to support things, in first person.  I need you to do this.  There is leadership in that, and a sense of authority, but I suggest there is no sense of community or coalition building.

If I were the speech writer I would reserve the authoritarian use of “I” for select moments of crisis.  Rather, I would bring back the royal we, the friendlier we.  For, “it’s all in our backyard”, isn’t it?  It’s not your backyard, or my backyard, it’s ours.  How might we all better respond if we brought back the use of the plural personal pronoun?  Just as your mother saved the use of your middle name for “those times” when obedience meant right now, and no discussion, politicians might command a more communal sense of engagement with the use of we, forgoing the assertive first person singular pronoun for crisis and woe, for that time when “we are not amused”.

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50 years ago it was Kitty Genovese who couldn’t breathe…

As the tragedy of the death of Eric Garner and the call for action and justice, has played out nightly with demonstrations coast to coast, and cries of “Black Matters” and “I Can’t Breathe” have entered into our cocktail chatter and business conversations, I can’t get the thought of Kitty Genovese out of my mind.

Do you remember Kitty? 

Kitty was a 28 year old woman. She worked as a waitress. One night, around 2am, she was murdered – stabbed and raped – right outside of her own apartment – by a 29 year old man who said he simply went looking for a woman to kill “because they didn’t fight back”, he later revealed. Kitty fought. She screamed. It was a loud, disruptive incident. Yet – no one called or came to help Kitty. Over 37 people later said that they were aware she was being attacked. They had heard her screaming for help.  Each person believed someone else was doing something. Calling for help. Rushing to her aid.  Yet, no one did.

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The social psychological phenomenon became known as the “bystander effect”, and, Kitty had her immortality, in the study of the “Genovese syndrome”, which continues to this day in colleges all across the country.  Literally, books have been written about Kitty – and the syndrome that bears her name.

While a student at Providence College, I studied social psychology.  I became rather fascinated by the development of group consciousness, group mentality, and “diffusion of responsibility”, and the “bystander effect”.  How could it be that one or two people would have more probability, individually, of helping someone than a group would?  How does the instinct to act become dissipated when they see themselves as members of a group?

We see this demonstrated with Kitty, yes.  We also see this on our college campuses when we talk about rape and sexual assault.  Often, the worst take place in fraternities or at parties, where society’s boundaries morph to the new society of the moment.  Where actions one person would never think about, much less act on, become the group’s behavior, and the individual becomes but one cog in the wheel that has been set in motion, with its own outlying concepts of right and wrong, its own shady sense of rules. As but one cell of the whole, the power to pull away is exponentially difficult.

The collective brain often rules.

The study of this has led to some good things.  It only took 25 years or so for CPR training groups to realize that there was a fatal flaw in step #1 – “call for help”.  How many of us were first taught to shout at the downed person, “are you all right” and then to shout out into the air or the group gathered, “call 911”!   Groups that were forever tweaking their CPR compressions, breaths, etc, heard about this, studied it and realized it was true that sometimes no one called for help – each thinking another member of this newly identified group had done so.  New instructions were written that when you called for help you should specifically select one or two people – looking at them directly and address them with a powerful order.  “You! Get help – Call 911 – now!”  What did this do?  It charged the specific person with a specific action.  The burden to do something – to move – was extremely powerful – and effective.  Some others in the group may act, too, but assuring that one person carried the full weight of that charge is now known to be crucial in a successful “chain of survival”.

How can this study – these concepts – help us better understand what happened to Eric Gardner – and offer critical retraining to our police officers?

We know his name.

Daniel Pantaleo. He is the police officer who put Eric Gardner in a fatal choke hold. But do you know who Justin Damico is? He’s one of the other officers. There were four others, too. There were also four EMTs/paramedics.  All told there were 10 “first responders” engaged with Eric that day.  And a score of others watching. The five police officers were given immunity to testify about the choke hold actions of Daniel Pantaleo.  The EMTs were suspended for their lack of lifesaving efforts at the scene, though they were later put back into duty.

Yes, Daniel Pantaleo was the officer who performed the fatal choke hold.  But there were four other officers there in that heap on top of Eric.  Did anyone say, “hey, back off a little, I think you’re killing this guy?”  Was that even a whisper? Or did the “diffusion of responsibility” have a powerful effect to have five officers believing that their actions were justified – there was no individual cry-out because there was no individual any longer – just ‘one of the five’.  Add onto this the layer of Eric being black. Add on to this the layer of poverty – all of this was happening in a poor section of the community.

What questions and answers can the study of group phenomena bring to retraining? Another group has used this information to help stop wrong side surgeries. Collective conscious thinking has been responsible for operating room errors when there was an assumption that the surgeon was cutting into the right appendage of his or her patient – even in the face of serious doubt or question.  It is a strong phenomena that makes an individual, maybe someone low on the hierarchy in the room, frozen from questioning, from saying, “wait, let’s check this again”. It is hoped that by retraining, and allowing all members of the group to have equal voice, this can change. To be effective, there must be a real promise of no repercussion, even if the person is incorrect, and all members of the group must believe that, to be so empowered.

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Did those officers, did Justin, and the four others, and David – approach Eric – with individual decisions that they were going to make this day one Eric would never forget – they were going to take this guy into custody – and if he resisted, they were going to kill him.  Right there, on the street, in front of groups of people, and while being film?

The overlay of race and poverty.

Did race – and bigotry – and fear – and poverty overlay these dynamics making the situation beyond salvation? Of course.  Exponentially so. So, yes, we need to do our cultural education and racial education, and our retraining.  We need to also restore the power of the individual to question tactics, protocols, and moments when common sense has gone haywire. Shoot to kill? Arming our police force like they were at war? Match our law enforcement to the diversity of the community? Teach individual responsibility and empowerment?

“I can’t breathe!”

There were lots of people around Eric.  Lots of people cried out.  But the most important ones who could have stopped it – the officers, themselves – didn’t hear.  They were bonded by a powerful magnet creating one new entity, made even stronger by fear. Each, by their silence to the others, reinforced the actions – the holds, the knee into the back, the smashing of Eric’s face into the cement – the fatal choke hold growing tighter and tighter.  They could no longer see with their own eyes, or hear their own thoughts – and they certainly did not the 11 cries from Eric – “I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe!

5 o’clock in the Rainbow Room

It could be a sound, a scent, a photo.  Music.  Memories flood.  At unexpected times.

As an occasional professional fundraiser, I get acceptance into a world that I don’t live in, and I don’t come from. Yes, there are beautiful homes, and cars. Shoes to glance at.  Amazing jewelry – new or heirloom – I wonder. It is a world I have great respect for. I see the dedication of time – the sacrifice it takes – to maintain that.  I hear their thoughts about ‘legacy’.  It usually comes when children are grown, educated, getting married. Before they become grandparents. It’s a time when ‘how will we be remembered’ is all important. A time when their contribution to a cause will be life changing for people they will almost never meet.

They depend on someone like me to make the right partnerships for their interests. Do they want a naming opportunity, where their family name will be emblazoned on a building or a brick in a wall?  Sometimes they want anonymity completely. My work, moreso years ago than today, took me to meetings in beautiful lunch clubs (used to be men’s clubs), and the occasional trip for a particularly important planned giving opportunity.

Today I do little of that. But the other day, as I sat in my home office, working in slippers with my cat by my side, I saw the first flakes of snow falling.  And a story about the concert series at The Rainbow Room.  So attuned to sensory cues, it only took that visual, a snippet of music, and the memories flooded.

 

A cold winter’s night. In New York City. Early dinner. Top of the world at Rockefeller Center. The Rainbow Room. Round parquet dance floor with small dinner tables surrounding it. Floor to ceiling windows. A grand piano.  We’ve stepped into a movie.

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So quiet so early. I wonder if they are really open. It’s only 5 o’clock. We’re seated to one side. The candle is lit in this always dim-to-dark room. Our napkins are gingerly laid in our laps. It’s business, but we’ve let ourselves have time for enjoying a little bit of the town, as I obliged the request. “Surely we can have dinner in a nice place; and maybe Radio City?”  “Thank you, whatever you like. Yes, we should have some time off.”

He selects the wine. We wait for it to be served. I feel some motion in the room and I look out the window where skyscraper tops meet my eye. I see that it’s snowing. But it wasn’t snowing on the ride over. It was cold. But not cold enough for snow. When our waiter comes back with the wine he comments on our conversation. “Yes, it’s snow.  But it’s only snowing up here – on the 65th floor.  If you took the elevator down right now it would not be snowing at all at ground level. The snow evaporates on its way down to the street.”  Even more special, we have a private snowstorm, and I wonder if it was ordered for the occasion.

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There is another couple in the distance, across the dance floor. They lean in to each other across the small cocktail table. She’s wearing winter white. He’s almost imperceptible in the dark, except for the sparkle from his cuff link, when it catches the light reflecting off the crystal chandelier.

It’s the 90s. I work too hard. Travel too infrequently. Relax in elegant settings so rarely.

My meal is selected for me. I think nothing of it. I am doing nothing; responsible for nothing. I make no decisions, or recommendations.  I absorb. My shoulders come down and I settle in.  I could be in Paris, or Istanbul, or Shanghai, I think.  But I’m only in New York. On the 65th floor. In the snow.

While we wait, a dark man enters towards the piano. He is wearing tuxedo and tails with a white crisp shirt. His hair is as black as the black of his suit. He skillfully moves the piano bench without making a sound. He slips in front of it and does that little flourish to kick out the tails, and sits down. He has no sheet music. He simply sits. Still.

I feel a little dizzy by it all. And then I realize that the floor is rotating – the very slowest rotating floor I’ve ever seen.  One that the waiter can comfortably walk across to serve the food. And I wonder if he ever loses a table.  But then he just has to count “four tables to the left of the piano” and it would be right where he left it.

The piano man’s fingers are placed on the keyboard and he flutters out some pleasant notes, and then begins to play – quietly, ever so subtly. He closes his eyes. I find I’m soon closing mine, too.

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I sigh, and catch myself, wondering if that was loud enough to hear. My dinner partner and I exchange looks and words as our minds compete to find the memory box first. What is the tune being played for us? Pretty soon, one of us comes up with it – it is the theme from Prince of Tides. From the movie by that name whose closing scene was filmed right where we are. I know so many versions of that music.  But the piano makes me think of Lori Line. And it is so beautiful. There comes a moment when ‘something’ is called for – applause? a smile? a laugh? a tear? – we look at each other again. And he asks. Would you like to dance? I wonder if the man with the cuff link across the room can see the spark(le) from this man’s eye. Yes, yes, that would be what one should do, I think – and say.

He formally takes my hands, in proper position, and we dance.  I breathe in the cologne, close to me now, the scent I’ve smelled so many times across a board room, driving to a meeting, passing me by. We dance slowly, in proper cadence and position. Until the moment when he pulls me closer and wraps his arms around me, like a woman my age might dance with a man my age. It is all right I tell myself. It is, just about, perfect, I say over and over in my mind.

The piano player plays the long form, and it goes on and on. I wonder if he’s doing that just for us.  Yet, as it comes to a close, we both know that it was much too short.  Much too brief. Much too quickly did the door open and close.

Our dinner is waiting for us and we notice that the waiter has quietly placed covers on our food and refilled our wine.  As we walk to the table he comes by to uncover what we are here for – to eat. A quick glance up at me, a not-quite smile. He does not look at the gentleman at all. My napkin is placed once again in my lap. And I pick up my fork.

We eat quietly, as if something very special has happened here on this night of work, with a little time off for pleasure. I drink more wine and notice the couple across the floor has left. And it’s not snowing anymore. I can’t see the spires on the tops of the buildings. It’s all misty and foggy now.

The pianist has finished playing something else that was lovely, I’m sure. And taken his break. The floor no longer turns. It is only 7 o’clock.

The gentleman pays the bill though I don’t see a bill presented or payment made. We walk across the dance(d) floor. My coat is placed on my shoulders as we walk to our waiting elevator for two. My ears pop as we go slowly from 65 to ground. We say nothing. He looks down. I pull on my leather gloves. He does the same. I see the sparkle of his cufflink, and notice the lines on his face. Suddenly he looks very tired. His cologne surrounds me. I breathe it in very deeply.  In a moment the doors open to a blast of cold winter air.

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The Prince of Tides was released on Christmas Day in 1991

It starred Barbara Streisand and Nick Nolte

The movie was based on a novel by Pat Conroy published in 1986

“I am ever so much more than twenty. I grew up long ago.”

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“Peter,” she said, faltering, “are you expecting me to fly away with you?”

“Of course; that is why I have come.” He added a little sternly, “Have you forgotten that this is spring cleaning time?”

[Wendy] knew it was useless to say that he had let many spring cleaning times pass.

“I can’t come,” she said apologetically, “I have forgotten how to fly.”

“I’ll soon teach you again.”

“O Peter, don’t waste the fairy dust on me.”

She had risen; and now at last a fear assailed him. “What is it?” he cried, shrinking.

“I will turn up the light,” she said, “and then you can see for yourself.”

“What is it?” he cried again.

She had to tell him.

“I am old, Peter. I am ever so much more than twenty. I grew up long ago.”

“You promised not to!”

“I couldn’t help it.”

Today I spent some time with a friend from high school.  He and I share about 35 years of not being friends – the years between high school and a few years ago, when, through the magic of Facebook, one of our first reunions happened. We’ve caught up with each other.  Many of us now peruse our Facebook pages – like opening a “this is your life” book, we click on photos and watch the years unfold.

Whoosh! I see a blond haired lad with an impish grin and I see my friend, but then I realize – silly – that’s not him –  it’s his son.

I suppose I’ve been feeling a bit like Wendy did lately.  Facebook has had a way of condensing my life.

A few weeks ago, my friend, Mike, was chatting (on Facebook, of course) about helping his sister start a food truck business, resurrecting his old family recipes from his family’s iconic community restaurant.  I knew that my artist clients were holding an exhibit and wanted to have some food options for their patrons, so I suggested that he set up outside the building.  The building, an old Armory, is right next to “our” high school.  So on this crisp fall day, with a chill in the air, we found ourselves sitting together at a little picnic table area he had set up, right in the shadow of our high school.

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Whoosh! He’s a football player.  With a golden floppy head of hair, a swagger and a drawling, Texan style voice. He’s a little bit of a trouble maker, but then he’d flash his white-toothed, full faced smile. His eyes would smile, too, with a sparkly twinkle, just like an animated commercial.

He has a floppy head of grey hair, but the sparkle and smile are fully intact.  His impishness, too.  His age shows most notably in his manners.  He is extremely polite and helpful to older people, very respectful, and even moreso with children.  His second career is a prison guard.  Somehow that work has made him, what, gentle?  A gentle, impish, funny, handsome man.

We talk about the little catch in our step – me with my hip – he with his back.  We sit at the picnic table and talk about meatballs and sauce and memories of the city we grew up in.  We sit in the shadow of our high school, where, some 40 plus years ago we graduated and parted company for most of those years.  Many of us who have re-met on Facebook know we will always be friends, now.  We will share the joys of children’s marriages and grandchildren being born.  We will share the sorrows of deaths that are already beginning to happen.

What made this so surreal?  Sitting close and looking squarely at each other?  The shadow of our youth towering over us now?  Being in the city we grew up in and all the things that used to be somewhere? Talking about the boarded up Armory with pigeons siting in the broken windows? Reminiscing about family recipes? I started to think about my mother’s sauce and how Portuguese linguicia was her secret ingredient and how could I have forgotten until this very moment of recollection.

Whoosh! That whirling tornado funnel of thoughts again – and a snippet of my life – graduating, college, an accident, jobs, marriage, divorce, babies, deaths, career changes and challenges, children growing up and adult jobs, retirement planning, reconstructive surgery talk…and then – whoosh – I’m back, sitting at the picnic table.

A week ago both my children were hired for their “dream jobs” – within two days of each other.  And they even have binders of benefit plans for me to look at. So I tell them – grab all that matchy pension stuff – buy that long term care policy.  Trust me.  I know they don’t know about a lot of things that I know too much about.

Whoosh! I see them heading to age 30 and I have the panic about their lives that I have about my own.  You have to plan. You have to do it right.  If you do it better than me your life will be better than mine is now.  Listen.  Never mind. Just trust me. Trust me.

There’s a nip in the air.  The leaves are falling.  Soon winter will come.

One day there will be gentlemen for my daughters’ hands. And every spring it will be cleaning time again. And may there be grandchildren to hear about high school. And football players with golden hair and twinkling eyes.  And fairy dust and Neverland. And thus it will go on.

“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” Peter Pan

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