You know the type. Always “blessed”. Always proclaiming their countless blessings, to the world, specifically on social media.
Invariably, such blessings only qualify if they can be held in the hand, like, okay, say, the handle to the double doors of a converted Southern plantation, or the reins of a willing horse.
Sometimes, natural disaster strikes. Theirs is the only house spared. Another burst of thanksgiving, to the God who cares about them the most.
Being bailed out after stupid decision making, like surviving food poisoning after refusing to wash bagged big agra lettuce or successfully pooping after 48 hours of bareback riding? These, while qualified, rarely get any airtime; one mustn’t embarrass the God of All Creation, lest He be miffed and withhold future cloudbursts.
Somebody who loved so many and deigned to love me, too, provided what I’ve concluded is the meaning of being blessed by a God who is no respecter of persons. That person was Mammy Sweet, and she was my grandmother.
Mammy stayed home. She didn’t own a car. She didn’t have a driver’s license. While she was still able, she walked to Sunday morning meeting – down the block, left, then down the short hill to the church we all called the assembly hall because, English and Plymouth Brethren, the real church was the body of Christ according to Scripture.
When she wasn’t dressed for Sunday all day, she’d be up with the sun to put on her support hose, sturdy shoes, a cotton apron over her cotton shift, and be about the house and garden. There were rows and rows of vegetables to plant, harvest, can, and eat; there were roses and peonies to feed the bees, a plum and pear tree, and countless perennials close growing both near the trees and through the rock gardens out front. In winter, there was bread to bake, and rugs to braid, and clothes to alter or sew from scratch.
After a full day in sunlight, rest was defined by the rocker, near the phone, where she regularly called the family or wrote letters or prayed.
In her world, blessing was defined in small moments, undeclared and unobserved by anyone, recognized in silent smiles as the sun set through the criss crossing silken curtains. I like to think that, because she bloomed where she was planted, living a life of worship and work, she was blessed with length of days. In turn, those days provided the blessing for all who knew her, for every hour of her 98 plus years on the earth.
It didn’t matter who else knew. Her God saw, and was well pleased.
The drive south was almost welcomed, seeing as there still weren’t many places this pandemic-resistant girl could plant herself outside of home, sweet home. Thermograms were yearly, non-invasive, worth both the money and time. After assuming all the positions, and a nice chat with thermographer Judy, RN, about whatsoever was true and what wasn’t and how many friends had turned their backs, she reached into the Altoid box to present compensation. No small horror: was her recently replaced credit card truly missing??
Now, how many hours of brain wracking would it take to haul back and retrieve the last time that wretched piece of plastic had escaped her grasp?
With some meuwing and striving, she pinpointed: June 9. The drug store drive through – and, the skinny sack, with its new migraine autoinjector, package insert and, of course, those famous last words of the dispensing teller: “Card’s in the bag.”
(But, hadn’t she needed that package insert last week, only to come up empty?!)
Now, the required call to the bank, for a check of recent transactions. All familiar; all well. She’d be home in an hour, time enough to turn the house upside down.
Rifling through the receipt box for the umpteenth time, she was sure this exercise would be further futility until, two parts determination binding with equal parts go for broke, there it was: the drug store bag. Eagerly, she squeezed the base and popped open its mouth.
What emerged provoked a moment of delight powerful enough to obliterate the Delta variant.
No. It wasn’t the credit card. That, she would find in the kitchen, only moments hence, wrapped in, yep, the clear plastic pouch housing one cumbersome freezer pack used to keep the migraine injector frigid. No. This?
This was her precious – and, three week long lost – Kitty Mask.
The pandemic had created one fashion statement, and this had been it. Her Bonnie-made kitty mask – the favorite, with its silly smiling cartoon cats, bright sunlit liner, and yellow ear beads.
As if propelled, in only seconds she bounded toward the kitchen, honing in on the sack holding the credit card, too.
Ya hadda live in that house. Ya hadda get that everyone coped in their own way, and most never let on how dreary and even despondent life had made them. This was a two-fer. What was lost had been found – twice.
Carry on, little birds. May all your trips south be as bountiful.
You will want this information. Much of it will surprise you. You will be immensely grateful that the three gentlemen provided it for your viewing, and you should note that the man appearing in the middle is a credentialed PhD, the man on his left is an engineer, and the bearded, white-haired man on his RIGHT is Dr. Robert Malone, the inventor of mRNA vaccine technology and RNA transfection.
The link to their video interview, shared below in this post, does not travel with a preview. Trust me. I’ve viewed it in its entirety, and it is neither corrupted nor profane nor obscene nor vulgar nor violent.
Please click on it, and be sure you are seated comfortably, as the discussion is intense and runs over two hours. I recommend that you spend three sessions, devoting one hour apiece, to the presentation.
Thank you for visiting this blog. It is my earnest desire that I present what my own investigation has unearthed for the purpose of thoroughly educating my readers in matters related to their health, welfare, and safety. And, now, I give you How To Save The World, in Three Easy Steps:
HOW MANY OF YOU HAVE VISITED your OWN BLOG – WITHOUT SIGNING IN – and, NOTICED THAT the HEADER APPEARS AS IF YOU ARE SIGNED IN?
HOW MANY OF YOU LOG OUT, AFTER HAVING BEEN LOGGED IN DRAFTING A PIECE, AND DISCOVER THAT THE HOMEPAGE STILL APPEARS WITH THE HEADER ACROSS THE TOP – AS IF YOU ARE S.T.I.L.L. SIGNED IN?
HOW MANY OF YOU have asked the Happiness Engineers for Help with this, only to be told that you are still Signed In (even when you know you have signed out??)
How many of you have set some of your entries to Private, only to discover that, when you are LOGGED OUT of the SITE, and you visit as a guest just to check, your Private posts are still accessible in totality when you click on “continue reading”?
These are all problems which, on my site, have been ongoing.
One Happiness Engineer claimed that my Cache still had me Signed in, and that this is why – even though I was Signed Out – it appeared as if I was signed in when I visited a few minutes/hours later.
Does any of that make any logical sense, from a security standpoint?
Please feel free to comment liberally, below this post, IF you ARE a WordPress blogger and have experienced anything like this. If you are NOT a WordPress blogger, and are just an obsessive troll exploiting the opportunity to spout off about prophesying Israel’s Messiah, do NOT comment as I will NOT Approve your comment and nobody will ever see it.
Early on, hits from exotic places like United Arab Emirates, or Hong Kong, or South Africa fed my sad, yea hapless, ego. I thought people from all over the world were reading my stuff. What a dork.
Only in recent months would an old former colleague (he’s both) reveal how easy it was to fake a location online. South Africa was more than likely Wattsburg, PA and the reason for the hits?
How many college students were paying ghost writers to rip off everything I’d created from scratch since July 2014?
WordPress couldn’t protect my work. Nobody could. I’d likely been parsed out until there was nothing left. Only WordPress, ironically enough, had the time stamped evidence of the date of origination of my essays and poems. Would they show up in court? Whom would they send?
The pandemic was exhausting. The vaccine roll out, excruciating. The psychological horrors, mind devolving. Was it cognitive decline, or all of the above?
Where are the royalties? Will my self published series’ tell the tale?
Or, has everybody already long since forgotten the story?
Hardly anything in this life is more worthy of celebration than news of human healing. Who could possibly argue?
Hearing that a beloved young woman – beleaguered by protracted physical symptoms – has finally received both a diagnosis and effective treatment, I am moved to speak.
What will I say? That I’m grateful she has found a qualified diagnostician? That the prescription she’s taking is working? That her symptoms are finally receding?
ALL of the above.
Yes. I believe in science. Science – the discipline involving the harnessing of nature’s evidence and applying critical methods to what it can tell us about the physical world and the sustenance of life within it.
What are the roots of the scientific inquiry? Humans want to know about that which occurs over which we creatures seem to have no dominion. Hence, the study of physics, astronomy, geology, biology, physiology, ecology, and the first of humankind’s actions upon the latter, chemistry.
What I do know, to which historical documentation will attest, is that the advent of human healing practices dates back to early homo sapiens and their counterparts, Neanderthals. Things which arise from the earth itself, plant and mineral material, were among the first of what came to be known as human medicines.
Investigate the culture of Native Americans, and others across the globe; the evidence is virtually everywhere. Plant salves, poultices, oils, and powders. These were the first medicines. In some tribes, such formulations were the domain of shamans or gurus or other healers by name, those who made it their life purpose to prepare and provide the healing treatments.
“Modern” medicine, with its study of bio-chemistry and use of man-made technologies (leading to bio-chemical engineering), has reached a broad capacity to diagnose multiple human ills. But, the medicines formulated still contain fundamental features always present since time immemorial: plant and mineral derived material. The stuff of the earth, itself.
Controversies rage over the comparative value between pharmacologically prepared vs. naturally formulated offerings. Yet, whether one chooses to ingest a solid caplet or capsule, or a powder, or a solution; whether one injects, or swallows, or topically applies; the source of any one of such choices is the root of all science: earth’s basic elements, and the manner in which they interact molecularly.
Science is the study of that which occurs, naturally, and how humankind gathers all the evidence thereof toward practical use. As such, I believe in science – wholeheartedly, in all its manifestations, because I, as a creature, cannot deny it.
Yes. As a study, science is pure – the examination of the expressions of life itself. But, when the scientist ceases to be in service of health, wellness, and all forms of life sustenance and becomes a tool in the hands of the experimental, great and fearful caution need be taken. The manipulations which can occur within the scientific experiment can reveal nefarious motives. Moral compromise. Falsified data. Misleading conclusion. The list grows.
Ask any chemist. Harnessing molecules and creating new ways to bind them has birthed a man made world. Enter humankind, and its propensity toward greed, covetousness, and corruption. To what end will intellectual curiosity bend minds otherwise committed to the service of the quality of life?
I will never deny science. What I will challenge is human motive in its service. To that end, if I must, and in the interests of both self preservation and community protection, I will defy the scientist.
Duct cleaning was the real world equivalent of a colonoscopy.
Beyond fundamental purging of the crud adhered to household infrastructure, what mattered in the end (npi) was all the unfinished business unearthed in the process.
I’d purchased the old farmhouse in ’89, at the ripening age of 32. Among my phase of the Boomer generation, this was considered respectably progressive; most single girls were renting in townhouse complexes held up by select, emerging studs. I was the girl with other things to do.
Like, build a creative life.
And, toward that particular endeavor, such construction yielded the acquisition of: things.
It only took three decades. In that time, I’d managed to retain eighteen throw pillows, four keyboards, seven hundred ninety eight gig check stubs, one Koehler beer bottle, George Foreman mini grill, Jack Lalane Juicer, Oster food processor, Skinny bullet, Cuisinart countertop, two rotary phones, seventeen curio boxes, six hat carriers, five unmatched end tables (from Sundance), ten lamps, three sofas, fourteen area rugs(half off, shipped direct), and each piece of clothing ever handmade by Mum or purchased from Newport News catalog. Everything was a potential theater prop. Every issue of The International Musician, Suzuki journal, CD sample, 8.5 x 11 page of sheet music, and idea scrawled empty envelope ever hewn, molded, collated, or conceived. Hard copy was the hallmark of my people; we had history, because we made history.
But, post-pandemic, it was time to get this hoard in order.
Duct cleaning services only ask for the simplest compliance: make every warm air vent and cold air return accessible. Large expanding hoses, I dimly remembered from well over a decade past, needed to be attached to each and then run outside through a noisy compressor the size of a pediatric hot air balloon in the shape of a human stomach. A couple hours hence, and the digestive system of the old Saraceno homestead would be purged.
Well, not so fast.
The constipation of thirty plus years was compacted. Furthermore, like most artists, I’d re-designed the floor layout as many times as the visual landscape warranted, which was frequently, and with no regard for anything as life sustaining as air flow. And the cellar, become the catch all for 25 years in K-12 vocal /general /instrumental and dramatic music, held enough foamboard, posterboard, cardboard, laminate, and plastic binned handhelds to start a very smelly bonfire at a summer camp.
Speaking of fire, I’d spent the two full hours and nineteen minutes ensconced in the attic loft contemplating how many minutes it might take to evacuate my four most precious treasures in the event of such an alarm. From there, I could hear the two cleaning guys at the back mud room doorway as they wrapped up their afternoon.
Then, it happened. That moment, in every Woody Allen film, where the frame falls away and the viewer – exposed – becomes the central character. From my perch on the landing of the loft, I heard one say to the other:
“This place is a mess.”
Down the back stairway I pummeled, ready for confrontation. Had they finished, and was I not so sorry about the cluttered entryway and the prohibiting things. What was the condition of the ducts. Genuinely surprised, I stared as the one who denied making any judgment declared that neither the ducts nor the vents were caked in soot. What, then, had caused the overwhelming dust bunny convention in virtually every room of the house?
My collection of, you guessed it: things.
Paper and cardboard, to be exact. The stuff of all conflagration. The cause of the problem was the problem. Shit, effectively begetting shit.
In spite of the questionable integrity of the first floor wiring, the Nutone heat lamp timer on the bathroom wall still worked. If I set it to its maximum 15 minutes, I could start at the south end of the kitchen and work my way north. The white washed Pier I country house bench, wedding gift from Lisa in ’93, would be the first suffocation rescue; what remained would take the rest of my life.
Faintly, in the distance of my inevitable future, I could almost feel it:
This blog post will include two video links. Both of them represent presentations I recorded and subsequently uploaded to YouTube for broadcast on my channel to which, if you are a regular subscriber to this blog, you have already been introduced.
For each of these I received “Strikes.” According to the Tube’s algorithms, the content of each violated both their Community Standards and their Medical Standards, for the former suspect of containing “scam, deceptive practices, or spam” (imagine that!) and, the latter, information related to health and wellness which could “cause harm”.
In both cases, I was stunned – and, chilled, by memories of Nazi tyranny and similar types of oppression employing subversive surveillance.
In both cases, I was offered the option to Appeal and, in both cases, my submitted Appeals were rejected. At this point, due to the second Strike, I am forbidden from posting, commenting or uploading any content to my channel for one week.
Here are three URL links to the videos which were stricken from my channel; the second (a mere 47 second intro clip) contains no cover image, so it appears only as a link with no accompanying image. I have edited them not at all, merely recorded them on my phone for re-upload via Bluetooth. The audio/video quality is poor, but their content can be absorbed. Please turn your Volume up, or wear a headset for better audio transmission. After viewing, feel free to comment as to the nature of their content in the Comment option below this post. Thank you.
Protect American rights.
And, next: the following INTRO clip about Dr Kuhn’s Copper masks (click the link):
And, FINALLY, the REST of the video covering Dr. Kuhn’s Masks, as well as my covid protocol.
Thank you for viewing these videos, and for preparing your commentary for entry below the post. You don’t have to have a WordPress account to comment; just choose the email address option, or other options as they appear below the Comment block. Thanks, again !!!
And, she was born in the backseat of a junked car. Go figure.
Markings of a Shepherd, but with a butt bigger than her face and ears that just wanted to flop over, we knew nothing of her heritage and, for much of her life, didn’t care. She was high energy, outspoken, wriggly, affectionate, and loved.
But, the retriever in her was locked and loaded.
I never knew which part she craved most. Was it the running, or the catch? Clearly, her ancestors went for the birds; the higher and faster the stick flew, the more she scrambled to tumble over herself at the capture. Whichever, this dog ran tirelessly after her “prey.”
Retrieval. For this aging Boomer, the singular challenge. In my case, not chasing a prototype mallard, mine is the ever ephemeral: thought.
The choicest fowl to fly across my firmament most often appears on the cusp of sleep. A kernel, a title, for the next essay. The whole piece, were I awake enough to log on and begin, would write itself; yet, if I do not rise up, feel for the crayon, and scribble the two at most three words into my bedside book, by morning…….flown.
Why, however, does the mind retrieve everything else instead?
Why will it totally recall seeing, even hearing the idea as well as the very position of my body at that moment, without re-sending the bird across my sky? Because, once flown….gone?
Last week, due to ongoing migraine plus my mother’s history with brain cancer I had my once every decade brain MRI. The radiologist was thorough; no lesions, no evidence of stroke, just those pesky, chronic microvascular ischemic “hot spots” in my white matter. The neurologist, fielding my pile of questions, insisted vascular constriction as a cause, said provocateurs being pain meds, the summatriptan I’d taken for over twenty years, and the headaches themselves along with several other indicators most of which did not appear on my health profile. My BP was generally below normal; I never smoked; I wasn’t obese. Yes; I’d had mildly elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, and one month with an A1C of 5.8. But, mostly, my vessels were just sick of being squeezed, and several of the most remote were caving.
Dad, a multi-decade marathoner, had always loved to quote author Jim Fixx:
” Running opens up new avenues of blood vessels!”, he’d crow, after a hot shower upon return from four hours on the open road.
Fortunately, there was hope; for every death, a theoretical regeneration. All I need do was get up off my spreading rear and move.
The same likely not said for the elusive thoughts which had traveled each now defunct pathway. Nero had also succumbed — to a flipped stomach, a horrible way for a dog to die and caused, sure enough, by running on a full belly. The retriever in her, ever at war with the digestive system of whichever breed(s) populated the rest of her DNA.
In our beloved Nero’s memory I’d resolve to get up, and run. Run, for the blood, the vessels, the mind, and every thought which elected to gain entry.
THIS IS A RE-UPLOAD OF THE SAME VIDEO WHICH FIRST APPEARED HERE. I had to circumvent a GLITCH which caused the audio>video to go out of sync. The content remains the same, with the occasional additional subtitled caption, for further clarity.
*IF VIEWING ON A SMART PHONE, PLEASE TAP the “CC” in the upper RIGHT AREA of the opening frame. THIS activates CAPTIONS, an ESSENTIAL, CLARIFYING ELEMENT in this presentation. Thank you!
To a creative, idea theft is the ultimate violation.
When I was a server for DENNY’S, Inc, the ubiquitous family restaurant chain, my District Manager took a proposal I presented at a store meeting and unveiled it as his own, District wide, in Willoughby, Ohio.
During a stint as judge for a student instrumental music competition, I made what I thought was an astute comment as we on the panel discussed prior to meeting with the proctor to hand over our decision. When the proctor appeared, another member of the panel took the words right out of my mouth, offering them to the proctor.
The real clincher came during my two decades as elementary music teacher. I wore theatrical costumes, self devised, every day; every lesson had a theme, and my get up with props served that objective. The kids were enrapt, mouths agape; never once did I ever need to raise my voice in discipline.
Soon, young women began appearing in my classroom. They were elementary ed students from the nearby college in the county, sent to observe my work. Eagerly, they soaked up everything I ever did. What I didn’t realize was that they were just as eagerly reporting back – to their methods instructor.
It would be a good five years hence, and a forced move to a different site, for me to realize what had unfolded. A young student teacher asked if she could present a lesson to my music class for credit. I obliged. When she entered my room in full snorkel and flippers, my heart fell to my feet. Later, I would discover that her “mentor” was a woman at the very same institution which had sent its young to my original classroom. Apparently, this woman had scrambled to establish herself all the way to a doctorate in education, publishing and hosting workshops specifically targeting integrating music into the classroom. And, to my mind and heart, she’d done it riding on the back of my singular efforts of the previous five years, possibly others as well.
Of course, in every case as outlined, no credit was ever given to the source.
During the first year or so of my foray into the world of blogging, I was pretty much oblivious of skulking and lurking pirates. By the time my folly was realized, hundreds of chapters of my life had been disclosed at this, my writer’s site. How many times could my words have been parsed out? Maybe thousands?
Granted, my story is as unique as anyone’s. But, one aspect stands out: every observation always came from the lens of one who was both born, raised, and ever lived in one place: Erie, Pennsylvania.
We all dream of great accolade. I think it’s part of our natural egoism, borne in the part of our brain which drives survival. We want not just to be alive, but productively so and, then, once we’ve worked our fingers to the bone and our hearts to their core, we hope that at least one person we have come to respect notices. We want our efforts to seal our social security on the planet.
But, just now, after having read a piece about Evangelicals and the covid vaccine, I noted its author: Connie Schultz. Googling her, I was stunned to see that she’d published a novel for which the Pulitzer Prize had been awarded. The title about took my breath: “The Daughters of Erietown”.
Sure. She came from Ashtabula, and her town in the novel is fictitiously attributed to Ohio. But, everybody who has grown up and lived here knows that, for decades, all the local news and weathermen had one, affectionate moniker for our city: “Erietown”.
So, nobody around here is fooled.
As for whether my exhaustive efforts as an amateur writer have been compromised, I am certainly powerless to argue the point. In a couple weeks: birthday 64. Nope; never met nor married a politician. I have yet to gather my chapters into a novel. Perhaps, by now, doing so will be moot. Everybody else consistently gets there first, whether by hook or by crook, and my name will have never come up in the conversation.
But, if you’re reading this now and you have been following since the fall of 2014, go buy the book. Read it. Let me know if you see anything familiar. Or, not. Write me off as a jealous sniveler who cannot take action, on her own behalf, to promote her own work up to the speed of those not otherwise sporting the big “L” on their foreheads.
Meantime, you know what I’ll be doing. Plugging away, like Erma Bombeck, from my sofa in the livingroom of my house on Poplar Street. Maybe something I say will have raised a thought, pricked a conscience, hit a nerve, touched a heart.
Or, not. That part is up to our ever-lovin’ Creator, who makes all things new every morning.
The fresh zucchini had endured that suctioned sealer long enough. Removing both small tubes from the fridge shelf, she noted that each had become a bit moist and rubberized, more like the consistency of a full water balloon. Yet the touch to the tongue revealing no revolting after taste, she peeled, sliced lengthwise, lay each “finger” in a drizzle of olive oil, and set the pan about slow frying.
As the oil peppered its flesh, she added a liberal dress of herbs and spices. Oregano leaf. Basil. Smoked Paprika. Then, Onion powder and, finally, Celery Seed. Inhaling the chemistry, satisfied she covered the pan, and reduced the heat to just enough for smolder; then, removing a palm sized chunk of Goat Cheese from its bin, she scooped out a couple generous swaths. This would coat the bottom of the dish, she decided, to melt later.
Just in case the squash might be a tad overripe she tossed a few drops of apple cider vinegar in the mix, to kill any aggressive pestilence. There were dishes in the sink and, motivation to wash them always at the mercy of aversion, she rationalized a bit of extra time for frying and soaped up around a third of these, letting the saucepan sizzle for about four more minutes. Zucchini was usually baked, anyway; extra time in the pan wouldn’t kill anything except the part she wouldn’t want disturbing her delicate gut flora.
Minutes later, ladling the now limpid legs onto her trusty Corningware plate with its molded handle, she took a flat knife and spread the Goat cheese up and over and around the entire mixture of zucchini and herbs, watching it melt and meld into the meal.
Eating this little dinner, she smiled. It was so good. Zucchini was, after all, naturally tasteless – the perfect vehicle for the reason she cooked like this in the first place. Really, cuisine was about flavor, nutrients and a texture carrier. Who wanted to melt cheese on a plate, then douse it with leaves of plant? Spreading everything that had both pungence and palatability across one generic summer squash meant that she could taste the divine yet give her teeth a reason to crunch.
She still had her teeth, all of them but one, in fact, and being able to chew voraciously meant that she was still quite alive enough to live in her own house and use a fork. Good enough reason for one bland vegetable to carry everything else worth loving, while she still had breath.
Some are so soul crushing that the relief which occurs upon waking is akin to epiphany.
I’d found myself back in the cello section of the Erie Philharmonic. (That alone, to those who know the history, was already a foreboding dream marker.) Herewith, the scene unfolding.
First, the orchestra was performing in the pit not of the spacious and soon to be reborn Warner Theatre/Erie, PA but of Grover Cleveland Elementary School, a site never before graced by this orchestra (although the Erie Chamber Orchestra would find its way there a year or so before its own demise). Further, my position in the cello section was outside last desk (which had almost never been my seat) and the cellist sitting inside was a student, the only private student who had left my studio during my actively performing years and who, during this scene, was no longer my student. Given this arrangement, the dream concert would likely have been a Jr Phil “side by side” performance, no doubt inspired by photos posted on Facebook which I’d just perused before retiring to bed the night before.
I’d taught at Grover Cleveland School for twelve of the twenty five in total dedicated to related arts, public education. My seat as outside last desk in that pit put me very near the spot of the place where, twelve years earlier, in full view of an auditorium filled to capacity with young children and their teachers, I’d flown from the stage edge to smash to the floor, breaking my hip and sacra.
Now, in that very place, the orchestra sat in dress rehearsal. My former student was sustaining sound on one note noticeably beyond cue of the conductor’s baton, affectionately known by seasoned professionals as “the stick”. Watching the stick had been something to which I’d been absolutely loyal for nearly 30 years. This was a feature of my own contribution to the ensemble which I’d been sure established my value within it.
I gave my former student a sidelong glance of teacherly disapproval.
Suddenly, the dream scene changed. The conductor was at my elbow, leaning across me, lavishing the student with praise – and, ignoring me. This conductor, that is, none other than the Maestro to whom I’d been most devoted, the one and only Eiji Oue who, as a Bernstein protege, had filled our hall every concert for five glorious years.
I looked up at Eiji – bewildered, frustrated, and sad. Then, I spoke. “Maestro, do you…….should I just leave the orchestra?” With snide condescension, almost irritated by the question, he responded.
His reply was affirmative. I don’t remember what he said.
Rehearsal having ended, audience had begun filing in. Standing up, preparing to buck the encroaching crowd, I spied my younger brother already seated in the auditorium. I called out to him, declaring that I was being eliminated from the orchestra. He gave me a challenging look, the kind he presents when he’s about to wordlessly act. Then, he turned, and ushered his couple boys out of the row.
I looked over the throng, beginning to feel the panic. Was I carrying my cello in its case up the steep aisle toward the foyer? Once there, the space resembled the inside of a local parking garage near the Warner, all cement, with painted steel rails. I had to find my brother; he’d transported me to the event. Didn’t his truck have my housekeys in it?!
My brother, because this was a dream, could not be found.
I returned to the inside of the auditorium, which was filling fast. Heading down the aisle was a strange young woman with long, thick, honey colored hair, carrying a cello case. Reaching the last desk, she began unpacking her cello. Her face was one common to my dreams, clearly identifiable but totally unrecognizable by me. I called to her. Refusing to look at me, but with a knowing smirk, she continued setting up her instrument.
That fast, I’d been replaced for the performance by a sub willing to “show up and play”, the moniker for those whose entire performing lives are dictated by a willingness to wait for a call at any moment, said calls tabulated and reviewed and documented for income tax purposes.
I turned. I looked back over the audience. I looked back at her. The room was closing in. I spoke to a woman near. I’d been eliminated from the orchestra after three decades. She looked back at me, as one looks at a sad stranger. I looked around the room. I stood. The sounds in the room increased in volume around me to a maddening pitch. I woke up.
Eyes opening, sticky from sleep, I felt the weighted blanket hugging my hips. The bedroom chair, dimly seen, the bathroom doorway, the music room through the bedroom door with my cello laying on its side by the piano… I’d returned to the haven of my own reality. I was intact.
Most dreams linger, their images gradually fading as we move through time. This one was different. This time, with a clarity as yet never experienced, I knew something.
No one other person, however importantly perceived, however grand in sphere of influence, however innately capable, determines another’s value.
The Roman schola carried all the way from the television to the kitchen.
I’d just made a tasty pasta dish with real Italian pipe rigate, yellow bell pepper, Gulf shrimp, honeyed goat cheese, uncured Sunday bacon, organic shredded parm from the block, broccoli florets and peas, plus my liberal mix of herbs and spices and olive oil, and was privately pleased to be having my Good Friday dinner in virtual attendance at the Vatican mass.
But, standing in the doorway leading from the kitchen, gathering my plateful, Viva paper towel, fork, and milk glass of water, what I actually heard was one voice – in my head.
Percy Pickering had brought his entire family to the States from England, the year I was in 6th grade. One of their first stops was to my town, to spend an afternoon and have supper at our house. There was Percy, bald, big boned and portly, with full lips sporting a bright blood blister and eyes a twinkle; Peg, his wife, redhair braided against her head and straight backed; Margaret, also redhaired but auburn and worldly wise, comfortably settled in the cushions of the wingbacked chair; carrot topped Peter, bright eyed and big and giggly; and, Paul, lean, turtlenecked, quiet like his mother, just one year older than I. They’d come because Percy, a minister of the Gospel and Bible scholar, had chosen to leave his employ in the UK and become a traveling “laborer” in America for the Assembly of the Plymouth Brethren.
Mum had the full spread ready. Maple dining room table open, with the leaf, linen cloth and napkins, the good English China. Turkey roll, ham, creamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, sweet potato casserole, individual fruit filled Jello salads each with their dollop of mayonnaise and two pies, Cool Whip cherry and pumpkin. We would learn many things that evening, not the least of which was that the English never mixed fruits into Jello or made pie out of pumpkin.
The Pickerings became beloved by our family. Mum had been so taken by those of her own ilk, and Percy reminded faintly of her father, Henry, also a Bible scholar and Englishman.
But, unlike Henry, Percy could sing.
His voice was a bright, bell tenor and, from the podium in the grand Crawford Hall Auditorium of the Eastern Bible Conference held at Grove City College, he would lead the whole congregation ably in the hymns of invitation which he chose every time he was slated to preach.
And, preach he did. Percy was also a magnificent orator. His sermon was as much a dramatic soliloquy as it was the most persuasive sales pitch for salvation ever before heard. He would reach a peak of both volume and intensity, clutching his Bible under one arm and hoisting that immense voice with the breadth of a chest bursting with a passion for Christ, then drop to a stage whisper. As we all opened our white lyric booklets to search for the closing hymn, he would plead for souls to come to Jesus, reciting the text of the opening verse with imploring, personalized tones, his eyes alight with the certain promise of eternal rapture. And, then, he would sing.
The entire collective of the fellowship of the Plymouth Brethren knew the tunes. These were hymns carried down for generations, supported only by a single pianist at the baby grand in the corner. But, Percy would sing them full on, the words of Fanny Crosby and others carried by his spun tenor.
Over the years which would follow, up to a death from brain cancer (his likely caused by shrapnel from the second World War), and through Mum’s passing from the same, at my most remote, flailing moments when I’d chance to pull out Choice Hymns of the Faith, the only voice I would ever hear would be Percy Pickering’s.
And now, from across the endless universe, there it came again.
I hadn’t attended a Good Friday service for years, but had played many in the denominations across Christendom as cellist for the annual string quartet. Tonight, alone during the pandemic, I sought some semblance of familiar piety, some ritual to carry me. The Vatican was enacting Jesus’ road to Calvary. The Pope stood, head bowed, reading the prompts in Italian, children speaking at each station of the Cross. As I set my dinner plate onto the Tv table and opened my cloth lap napkin, Jesus had stumbled for the third time.
We’d never been taught that Jesus had fallen, at all. We’d come to believe that Peter had helped him carry the cross. Again, I heard Percy’s voice. I’d heard his singing voice, in the kitchen doorway, his imploring altar call, over the entire Roman schola. Now, he would assert his Savior’s sacrifice, declaring himself a priest according to the book of Hebrews, confident in the Gospel of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Roman soldiers, let alone their schola, could not carry that Cross.
The parent of one of my newest students sent me a video, the other day. I could tell, as soon as I saw the opening frame – a collage of syringes, masked faces, vaguely magnified documents, and a Bible verse in quotes – that this would be no stuffy, scholarly presentation. I was in for a treat.
I viewed the video.
Gradually, my opinion formed.
My plan was to express said opinion – gently, with care, being sure to avoid offending her potentially sensitive sensibilities. She was, after all, mother to two young boys, their grandmother also in house; I, childless and socially isolated, had no business confronting one defending such sacred ground.
What I wasn’t prepared to discover was that this earnest parent was herself a certified science professional. Undergraduate degree in Biology, Masters in Forensic Sciences, she’d worked as assistant to countless autopsies and now as microbiologist for a water testing laboratory. Plus, she’d spent many recent hours researching immunology. Here was a fully actualized American woman – and, I had been graced to become her child’s teacher.
This would require the employment of a tactical strategy.
I’d begin with a line of questioning. Questioning was indirect. Asking was different from telling. Asking presumed she had the answer I was seeking. I’d ask her about many things.
Question #1: The video opened with images of a female, twitching and contorting and barely able to walk, allegedly just three days from a first vaccine inoculation. (I would come to read of two similar anecdotes, in a YouTube comment thread.)
Whence had this clip been obtained, and who had the name and station of the patient, let alone which inoculation during which year? Why were we, the viewers, only privileged to view a disturbing display, without any captioned identifiers?
Question #2: : Its voice over that of one whose inflections suggested minimal education, the next narrative presented a make shift clinical experiment. We were able to view moving images, distinguish a cotton swab from a longer nasal swab, and observe an extracted clump of fibers one of which seemed to be moving of its own volition, another at the end of a tweezer. The narrator claimed to have obtained the nasal swab, by signing up for a covid test and then driving away with it.
But, whence the conclusions drawn by the demonstration? Didn’t static electricity allow synthetic fibers to adhere, even to each other? The claim that these were “alive” suited a sensationalist intent, but what of any further testing on said fibers?
Question #3: Similar fibers were shown to protrude from a close up of a man’s hand. Called Morgellon fibers, by another interviewee, these were said to be of unknown, inorganic origin. Finally extracting the fibers from the man’s hand, a piece of flesh was seen attached.
The narrator declared that these were coming out of her body, as well. But, she had refused to insert the nasal swab. Whence were such fibers appearing to extrude from her body? And, did these match those found at the tip of the inspected nasal swab?
Question #4: The image of a woman submitting to the much longer, original nasal swab, inserted by a technician, came next. We saw more than one such test administration, with a discussion of the direction the swab took to penetrate into the facial sinus and accompanying graphics illustrating the vacant space between the forehead facial bone and the brain. Then, we viewed a close up of tiny dark squares of “confetti” sprinkled on a swab tip. These were described as nanoparticles, and declared to be purposely included in the nasal swab.
We never saw evidence that these particles were visible attached to a nasal swab from a labeled test kit. We saw them in a close up of what appeared to be a cotton swab – and, on the tip of a human finger.
Additionally, we were TOLD the purpose and the function of these nanoparticles. By whom? A medical authority? A speculator?
Question #5: In the next scene, we viewed a close up photo of a tiny translucent square attached to a swab rod. A different narrator declared this to be a “holographic chip” containing the synthesized element, technetium. Wiki says this is used as a tracer, in diagnostic media. The claim was one of outrage; why were we being “tracked”?
The video was two hours long. Addressing every point of observation as it appeared would have taken a doctoral dissertation. Neither I, as a solitary being, nor the mother of two young children would be entertaining each other at this level anytime soon.
But, this was before her credentials became known to me. Somehow, now, I was adrift – unable to defend against established authority. Was this just my trigger, or had I just careened headlong into the age old battle between opinion and fact, between belief and proof?
Perhaps I had.
At this point in my life, I’d become wary of most everyone. Americans, in particular, had taken to social media with the fervor of Romans at a weekly forum. The one gaping hole in the fabric of our collective discourse was an acute absence of verifiable fact. The Emperor at Large had repeated so many declarative statements representing his personally held belief and intent so many times, much of the public had accepted them as truth simply by virtue of their raw frequency. We had, in effect, been schooled by opinion. Now, we were facing life and death decision making, and even those of us inclined to investigate ad nauseum were discovering entirely too many dead ends in a maze of monstrous proportions.
What remained before us, staring us down unblinking, was a clear crossroads; either a relatively safe mediating vaccine in two or three formulations was finally being provided us, or a massive fraud had been perpetrated and was continuing against our entire populace, one intended to wipe out 80% of our citizenry. And, even the most educated, prudent, conscientious, and intellectually capable among us could not discern which represented the truth.
This left me contemplating. Like my Christian forebears, I resisted wholehearted acceptance of nefarious or bleak reality. I sought hopefulness, because it was embedded in the nuclei of my cells.
Could there be a third scenario?
Could all of these other-worldly claims of fibers and particles and holograms all be real, and intended, but for purposes which were actually benevolent?
Suppose the nanoparticles and fibers, electrically or magnetically charged, the holograms carrying technetium, possessing properties unknown to those outside of scientific circles, were [ merely ] being introduced – riding a vaccine, as vehicle – to provide a universal mechanism for “reading” the body’s systems? One scientific paper stated as much, that the cardiovascular system could be monitored in this manner. Perhaps this technology was part of something as benign as tracking the ever-mutating virus itself, as it moved both through the nasal passages and the organs of the body? Perhaps even the vaccines were being tracked, in this manner?
I haven’t yet presented these questions to the woman, both scholar and mother, who sent me the video. I present them to you, instead. Even my local allergist cannot answer every question I pose; does this mean he is practicing avoidance, as some co-conspirator, either willingly or otherwise?
Fear drives both resistance and speculation. It feeds interpolation and, worse, conflation; taking bits of inherent truth, but connecting them incorrectly, often leads to drawing errant conclusion.
That is deadly.
But, courage allows us to take a different tack, permitting new thought. I choose to lay hold of hope, in both productive and constructive progress as well as the soul of humankind. Instead of concluding that we are all heading for the slaughter, I will determine to allow this hope to permeate every avenue of my thought, even as my blood flows to the furthest reaches of my brain and body.
Such is self healing. That being my opinion.
May we lead one another through.
*Readers: here is the video, in question. Form your own opinion.
When Mum found out she was terminally ill, I remember her smile of resignation as she looked from one to the other of us, sitting there on the front porch, together, nearly all of us in the family. It was almost apologetic, as if somehow she’d disappointed each of us by not getting the “good” diagnosis. That was Mum, always determined to do the right thing, the acceptable thing, the thing which was expected.
But, then she set about, to plan, as plan she would whenever anything presented to be addressed. With a noticeable sense of urgency, her ability to verbally communicate rapidly deteriorating, she insisted on finding [managing to get me to find] her box of Christmas cards. In methodical if repetitive silence, she flipped through them all, searching for names and their addresses. Since organized thought was diminishing with the tumor’s encroachment, this was a trying task. She enlisted me, yet again, haltingly explaining that she needed to “let everybody know.” I would compose a letter, to copy and send out to everyone on her list. These were the people who meant the most, who would care to know; these were those whom she loved.
Most everyone I knew who still sent out Christmas cards did so dutifully; there were endless, extended family and both present and former coworkers, that end of year stock taking of those still considered part of the relevant realm. But, to Mum, the list was precious; these were her dearest friends.
In her world, actually spending time with others just for fun had to take a back seat to the needs of the family. Dad had his shop; he could never leave his haircuts. There was no time in a given year to travel – except for that one week in August, south of town to the college campus about 90 minutes away where everybody on her Christmas card list would convene for seven full days of heavenly Christian fellowship.
These were people she’d known, together with all the cousins out east, since childhood. They’d kept in touch every year, for the entirety of their lives. Most had married, raising children who would represent inter-familial connections from within the fellowship. They were all joined at the heart.
Or, at least, Mum thought they were. She carried them all in her mind, as she sat every day at the sewing machine, revisiting any number of brief encounters across the whole of her life. Her thoughts devoted to every detail of a vivid recall, so each person would materialize in her memory. It was inside her head that she would sustain her relationships with each of them, tucking her favorites into their own corners for reference as they came into the frame of her story.
I’d sat, perusing the list we’d gathered. Many of them were totally unknown to me; surely, I had never met these, at all. Some were familiar, among the few ministers who would visit yearly with their wives; still others just names I’d heard spoken over the phone, in conversation with a sister or two. Mostly, had we ever actually seen these people cross the threshold of the front stoop, our house would have been filled every week to flowing with the glow and glitter of live laughter, of real life interchange. I was certain, sitting there next to Mum in the chair beside her bed, that they’d all have felt her love just as much as she did without them present in the room.
But, they hadn’t been, and they weren’t, and now she was about to die without them. She would send my letter, and some would call. Most would send cards, and set reminders to order flowers. But, she would know them, well, as well they ever could have been known, with a kind of devotion unseen and unspoken. And, every Christmas thereafter, maybe she would occur to them, and they would finally know.
I was the second born, the love child of a reunion marriage. Often, I’ve been known to declare myself the embodiment of both my parents’ strongest and weakest traits. Among these, I bear Mum’s willingness to love from afar, her inability to materialize relationships, her life of wistful imaginings. If you are on my Friend list, I carry you in my heart. Whether we live or whether we die, you will have been loved, if only by me.
The gurney is hard, the fluorescence above it humming. Nubbing legs dangle over the side of the frame, an IV port pinching the tender skin on top of my hand every time I forget not to move it. A single, nearly square corkboard on the wall beside holds a smattering of 9×12 memos, one of them hot pink. I stare at that one, mesmerized. How many among this newest crop of strangers will have seen their memo, that day, and would they be ready for the moment of my death?
The half hour preceding, high drama. Arrival, gasping with terror, the creeping itch encircling my face and crawling between my bosom, around, under my arms and across my back, and then the rear of the tongue rising to meet the pharynx, daring to close entirely, heart racing, skin clamming, the lights, lights so icy bright, the smell, always the smell of sterility.
These are the minutes over which nobody has any control. The roughly twenty odd ones after the puncture of Epinephrin and IV push of Benadryl, during which our father, Time, the only sure indicator of ongoing life vs. cardiovascular collapse. And, after four of these in one year, again left alone by strangers in the ER bay to ponder the outcome, mind attached to body gradually succumbs to the antidote of semi-coma.
Strangers. At the moment of theoretical death.
This is the realm of the anaphylactic.
Unlike those stricken with terminal illness or even massive stroke, the anaphylactic cannot feature the luxury of familiar faces, phone calls, cards and letters, even bedside caregivers who’ll call us by our name. If we’re lucky as well as fastidious, we’ll carry with us the proper packet of antihistamine or the Epi-pen, provided we are also completely able and willing to inspect every ingredient contained in every appetizer, entree, salad, and dessert offered by anyone beyond the scope of our own, protected kitchens.
Were we to be anybody outside of our actual selves, we might observe the scene at the neighboring table on a Friday evening – server, hunched over the menu, squeezing a pencil, forehead pinching, corners of the mouth twitching neurolinguistically to mask cursing annoyance, fixated guest rattling on about oils and additives next to a bewildered date mentally reviling why he’d been so determined to know this woman.
We’d not have been able to enjoy our own meal, what with the server hastening off to the chef’s lair to consult, report back, consult again, report back, smile assuredly, take the order, bring the order, take it back, the date leaning in toward the anxious female, arms folded across the table’s edge, eyes sucking into his head behind a smile stretched to its breaking point.
We might have left the restaurant with a social checklist ticking across our own foreheads. We’d have recognized the woman from having seen her on the various pages, she with her dubious references to multiple former lives. We’d have concluded many things. Clearly a narcissist, judging by the texture of her dark hair and the angle of her nose the spoiled daughter of he who sold back room numbers, she would just have to be spending everyone else’s time in public grasping for singular attention. Yes; siphoning the entire room of its last particle of energy, in her own mind she would be exceptional.
Exceptionality. The curse of the oblivious.
Cosmopolitan life renders a certain mass anonymity. When merely dozens are displaced by hundreds of thousands, that which is distinguishing fades from immediate view. Blending is both habit and practice; that which doesn’t easily finds enough of its own kind to forge new criteria for acceptability. By contrast, in small towns anything or anyone who is unavoidably different can become quickly pigeonholed, marked, recognized, and not in a good way. Traits borne by these are subconsciously dismissed as, ultimately, forms of weakness. Exceptionality becomes a force which both pulls and pushes, and that against itself.
The coronavirus has at once rendered every civilized center, regardless of size, homologous. All are flanked according to appropriate distance, masks obviating familiarity, no one a stand out by either class or station.
All, that is, except we anaphylactics. Our fears are inextricably distinguishing. Virus, or vaccine; we face the threat, of death, whether we do or we don’t. Statistically a tiny minority, exceptionality neither our excuse nor our defense, we remain the stranger.
I just spent about four minutes scanning a Yale professor’s piece on the nature of genius. Nothing really grabbed me until he touched on gender bias. Women seemed less interested in competing for intellectual superiority. (As if such were even possible, in a woman’s world or any.) When I reached the professor’s self-devised formula for defining genius, I stopped reading.
Apparently, in his equation and in order to qualify, one’s life had to have the fated S. You know, G = S + whatever. S stood for Significance; one life contribution had to reach a wide swath of other people, such that its influence either affected social change or altered the course of history.
Don’t worry. I’m not about to make any claims of cerebral superiority; my elder brother wears that mantle. Plus, all the sugar consumed since retiring from public education has likely dissolved much of whatever there was of pre-frontal cortextuality.
What struck me was the term. “Significance.” That’s really what I’d been seeking. Not Recognition, or even Affirmation. Just the feeling associated with having done something to make being on the planet worthy of breath.
Just under four years ago about to the day, I’d embarked on loving somebody. What made the decision so jarring was just having come off perhaps the peak of my performance career, a collaborative piano recital garnering the, okay, affirmation of those I’d clamored after for decades – full professors of music, whom I’d called colleagues in the privacy of my mind. Had I stayed on that new plateau, really traveled across its terrain, I might not be sitting here in the silence of my house typing this story at all.
No. Instead, I arose the morning after that concert and met up with the man. We walked his dogs. We talked. He would have kissed me, as we parted. He came back, instead. And, we were off.
Off, that is, to pursue and indulge and submerge and strive and cleave and hew and cry, then wonder and fret, antagonize, apologize (me), modulate, recapitulate. The song was way too long. The theme was nothing new, and the composition simply would not hold itself together.
Yet, the whole time, I told myself I was loving somebody.
Somebody, other than myself. Not the artist, the creative, the somehow talented younger sister of the celebrated family genius. Some one other person, alone in the world, fraught by a history only a handful could claim, really difficult to crack open, the ultimate challenge of other-directedness. This project would elevate my life beyond petty competition for rank or station. This would transcend securing a position as staff pianist for a university music department. Choosing to love more than mere aspiration would be a spiritual quest, requiring every facet of human awareness and commitment.
Growing up in the shadow of genius makes a person acutely aware of all the disparities. Not in social opportunity; I’m talking about what’s between people, that which separates them, the stuff that makes people different rather than the same.
I learned early that what I did easily, what drew me, occupied me alone. Nothing I really wanted to do involved anybody else. And, as I grew, my value became about what I could do which distinguished me. By adolescence, my body told me that this would never be enough. I looked outside of myself, and discovered a need to feel more than merely the object of curious attention.
We siblings were all taught the same things, but how we made them relevant in our lives was as different as we were from one another. The genius went out, and made the world come to him. I stayed home, and waited for what was born in my imagination to appear. When it only manifested inside my head I relinquished to what I’d been told: if I wanted love, I must first give it.
My attempts to do so were always wholehearted; the results were repeatedly bewildering and, ultimately, heart aching. I poured myself back into my art.
Choosing to try, one more time, coming just as I had finally hit my expressive stride will have to be explained by the one looking on. Veering off a path so clear, the mind specialists might offer, is about a certain fear. Perhaps I had acquiesced to the rule of disparity. Perhaps I could not accept that fortune and artistic satisfaction were my future, and chose instead to give myself away.
Somewhere, the tune changed. Then, the music ended. Everything cliche’d about intention and mutuality played in a loop, on an old cassette recorder in the corner of solitude. Whatever I thought I’d been doing just stopped.
The object of my love wanted no part of my intention. He repeatedly extracted himself until only figments remained in final retreat. Absolute absence left no ripple.
Pianos don’t move; they just wait. I’d been playing, all along, kind of on low grade maintenance as a service; but, slowly, each new piece began to bespeak a strange promise. Today, I played like my life depended on it. And, that piano loved me back, with its own, unconditional song.
Perhaps what we do and why we do it isn’t for us to say. Maybe we really are just a flicker in the flow of life, as insignificant as we can be. Even the genius has a moment or two of wonder mixed into all that grand earth shaking. Ask the child with special needs; even brilliance has its season.
I suppose the Yale professor, and all those whose time is spent observing those on the floor above might have something to say about all this. But, while he and his ilk are figuring out everybody else, you’ll know where you can find me. I’ll just be starting up where I stopped, perhaps differently than anything deemed significant, but loving in the only way I ever knew how.
In an age when diversity is celebrated, and all implicit or similarity bias is being expunged, individual identity faces a mandate: who am I, and where do I belong?
Even as we pursue that definition, we should be ready to accept that each living human has a story which is distinct, not requiring any classification. As a new friend reminds, can we not just be the best “me” we can be? Can we dispense with seeking alliances?
Alliance assumes a need for protection; feeling a need for protection acknowledges the presence of threat. But, wherein does threat present, if every story is recognized and accepted as unique?
If the focus shifts to a recognition of individual value, whence would any group need to band together? Would the BLM movement no longer be required to raise awareness? Would other movements, for other marginalized groups, cease their relevance as well? Banding together, while the need to do so seems immediate, is a far cry from bonding. Motivated by a need to protect one’s own, banding can provoke animosity and enmity, yielding more hostility and strife; by contrast, healthy bonding fosters nourishment, sustaining life. Could we not bond with one another, irrespective of classification by race or ethnicity?
There is an expressed fear, for example, among some members of the Jewish American community – a fear that anti-Semitism will be revealed among those they call friends. Why? Because of a need to feel intact, safe from suppression? Such fear is not unique to the Jewish population; sectarian Christians, for example, experience similar reactions in countries where religious intolerance prevails. Such fear pervades all ethnic groups, races, and religious subgroups when they differ in representation from those in close proximity or when those from outside of their group express bias or prejudice.
Being confronted recently by accusations of anti-Semitism, I was brought into discussion intended to enlighten and educate me. The outcome of the exchange led me to question many things.
To what extent do we derive inherent personal value from our heritage? Should we?
My paternal history is Italian. While I can claim some genetic connection with its rich artistic contribution to world culture, I am also forced to acknowledge the thieving Roman conquerors and even Napoleon, whose progeny in Southern Italy is undeniable. On the maternal side, William the Conqueror emerges in the family line; who was he but yet another marauding narcissist, overtaking all of central England, erecting castles in his wake and siring those who would colonize Africa and India, enslaving millions.
Taken in totality, my “heritage” leaves little to celebrate.
So, whence “identity”?
Accentuating the positive, as the old song intones, I find that elements worthy of distinguishing us can be found in culture. What of the food, the clothing and other textiles, the furnishings and various decor, from every people and part of the planet? What of the art forms – the song, dance, sculpture, design, architecture, and drama? How many different ways can we, as individuals, embody that which binds us historically?
As individuals, we can represent these cultural aspects of our heritage without desiring or seeking any recognition for their relative value. No aesthetic feature is superior to another; neither should any group be.
Every child needs to feel valued; every adult deserves to feel valuable. Each of us is a part of the grand history of humanity. Can we move away from fear and threat, and toward universal acceptance of every feature we contribute to the picture of earth’s people?
This realization was a revelation to me – a revelation of which we can all now be a part. Maybe its insights will lead us toward Renaissance, rather than revolution – and, that, one identity at a time.
After not one, but two, articles appeared in major newspapers covering so-called “White Christian Nationalists” devotion to the Trump regime, I figured that piece I’d been toying with writing had better hit the page. God’s inspiration should never be ignored, after all. Oh; and, believe me: I mean that, sincerely.
For all practical purposes, I am a voice of the “white Evangelical Christian.” My family was established into the fellowship of the Fundamentalist sect of the Plymouth Brethren by our grandfather, a street preacher who’d migrated from eastern PA to get a job building cranes and raise his children. A couple elders of “the meeting” on East Avenue in Erie met him, at the local jail, and invited him to join their assembly. Soon Henry, his wife Mae, and their four daughters Dora Mae, Betty, Frances, and Martha, would be born and raised among them, attending Sunday School, Morning Worship and Gospel Meeting – all on Lord’s Day – plus, Prayer Meeting and Bible Study on Tuesday and Friday.
Aunt Frances, the most liberal thinker among his offspring, would go radical and marry a Baptist minister. The rest raised all of us on the self-same attendance regimen and its accompanying rules for dress and decorum; head coverings for the women, seated silence for all females in the presence of their men.
Pappy, as we grandkids would come to call him, was a closet Republican who came to accept that, like the rest of the Brethren, his citizenship was in Heaven and that God would put into office whom He will – with no need for his actual vote. My parents, and our entire extended family (with the exception of the Baptists) modeled after their patriarch, listening intently to the election results on the radio but refusing to participate in the democratic process.
I accepted Jesus into my heart at age six, but registered to vote at age thirty one, in 1988, the year our grandmother’s soul left her body for the seventh Heaven. The competition for the office of President was Bush/Dukakis and I, torn between Dukakis’ education plan and Bush’s GOP platform of fiscal conservatism and social traditionalism sat, biting my nails until the polls closed – never placing my vote.
The next time being a Christian became relevant in my political world was the year 2000. For some reason, though I’d long since left the constraints of the PBs and church culture in general, I’d found myself in the convocation of our local mega-congregation, curiously named at the time “First Assembly”. Movie screens were mounted to the left and right of the sanctuary, primarily intended to present praise lyrics but, on this occasion, the projectionist was preparing a form of worship from which there would be no escape.
I don’t remember what was said from the lectern, by way of introduction. I just remember the ceiling lights dimming and strains of the Battle Hymn of the Republic wafting from speakers mounted throughout the large, wide church as an authoritative baritone underscored in narrative what we were about to experience.
This was no missionary appeal, with its opening report about life in the Caribbean or African interior. This was a film about George W Bush, designed specifically for the church congregations of all America. There were images of uniformed military, and family photos of the Bush dynasty, splayed out across a metamessage of persuasion as moving as an altar call at the City Mission. I was aghast, astonished; what was politics doing amongst the faithful? Furthermore how, two thousand years after the birth of Christ, did a piece of campaign propaganda ever find its way into the First Assembly of God?
Now, twenty one years hence, I think I know.
Now, I recall my immediate family’s open defense of the President soon to be history. I trace back further, through conversations with my beloved former student, a high ranking military officer of the US Army Air Force and born-again Christian, his ardent support of the George W. whom he actually met filling his eyes with light. Mostly, I call to mind prayer breakfasts for whose keynote speaker politicians were pinned, political rallies populated by entire church contingents, the voice of America’s morally upright finally being heard by a mainstream society clearly in precipitous decay.
Here’s the thing about “true” Christians, the ones who read the Bibles they own and who live for the Christ they call their Saviour. Once they’ve accepted the doctrines which dictate that the Truth is theirs for the delivering, they hear the mandating call to go out and preach that gospel to every tongue, people, and nation. These having spent generations separated from the World and all its fleshly lustings, some shrewd political strategist finally realized that one more call, tactically placed, couched in all the trappings of a real conviction to act, would render an entire demographic literally clamoring for a place in the palm of their hand.
Now, there would be no need for the subliminal strains of an electric organ cued by a pastor’s gentle request for bowed heads. Just a country song, sung by a Christian entertainer, and youth group car washes popped up in every church parking lot in the nation – complete with bumper stickers declaring the candidate of consensus. Just a message, insidious in its power, that the marginalized faithful were important, thrust into the spotlight of the Almighty God’s intention for His people and summoned to a service no true Christian could, in good conscience, refuse.
What nobody calculated was the incredible intractability of the true Christian. To say they are an emboldened fringe is a dangerous oversimplification; this is far beyond extremism. These are both Fundamentalist and Evangelical. This is an entire mentality of infinite scope, with eternal life its branded hallmark. Psychologists would say that theirs is not a dilemma. The path is clear; wavering is not part of their lexicon. They shall not be moved.
Somewhere between the promise of prosperity and sinless perfection, the message these march has the Kingdom of God all over it. Pandora’s box should have been left tightly closed, just like the fellowship of the Plymouth Brethren, exclusive unto itself. But, politics played its ever-greedy hand, and now we all pay the price for that unforgivable sin.
Oh, it used to be the third largest city in the Commonwealth, but its census has steadily declined. Yet, even at its most vigorously populated, yep; still a small town.
A small town is like a personality – with a problem.
Certain patterns emerge.
First, its people tend to huddle in tribes. This offers at least the belief that those within their chosen group will provide protection — protection from any threat to stability, protection of assets, protection of reputation. Every living thing is prey to predator but, in close proximity, said predator could be just down the street. Self-protection is the whole purpose of tribalism.
Those in positions of leadership over these tribes are especially prone, particularly when it comes to management. Power cannot hide. It can’t just choose to live twenty miles away from prying eyes. Its actions cannot be protected by the anonymity afforded by distance. Why? Even tribes are not governed by proximity; people choose with whom they align, regardless where they might actually reside, and these usually according to common interests. The shop. The extended family. The bowling league.
So, those in power are self-protective, to a fault.
Over time, the desire to maintain self-protective power becomes a primary motivator.
This is how marginalization occurs. Suppose a tribal member rises in rank to a seat in council. Preferential actions are a given. Certain tribes may be relegated according to similarity bias. This is the cloak of politics. Soon, preservation of the control which comes with power can come to supercede even the interests of the greater good.
So, how is such power preserved?
Withholding vital information. What is not disclosed acts as a tool, perhaps a weapon; what is known can be used to control.
Enter the coronavirus pandemic.
What do those in power, especially in smaller, tribal communities, know that they keep to themselves? To what might they be privy, which can be used to protect their own? Moreover, how much does maintaining power depend on seizing and holding information, information which might cause a threat to their positional security? Perhaps expectations are overwhelming. Not revealing a lack of readiness is a form of insurance.
But, in the interests of the greater good, such non-disclosure carries the potential for fatal outcome. How many communities are currently flailing, its members acting on the latest byte of allegedly viable information passed down from within a tribe? Which leader is to be trusted to dispense accurate directives? Who instructs the doctors as to their potential patient needs?
I have a dear friend. Living alone in an apartment building, she has been fighting covid since early December. Initially, her doctor diagnosed bronchitis, and prescribed an antibiotic. After her covid test came back positive, did this doctor halt the antibiotic? To what extent was this doctor instructed? To what degree was my friend’s tribe fully informed? Were all local physicians updated from the outset, by those in power? Had those in power sought complete education on the subject, and dispensed their data freely to the entire population?
I wondered then, and I wonder now. I sit here, in the house I call my own, in the town of my birth, and wonder in silence about what I have been told and how much I truly know.
In the wake of the violent assault which January 6, 2021 wrought in our United States, does anything beyond acute shock remain?
On the one hand, the divide we already knew as the “two Americas” is intensified. Those who are indirectly implicated by the acts of that day are largely stunned, if momentarily, huddled in regrouping retreat from their otherwise opposing friends on social media. Those who were represented politically by the “other” side are as vociferous as ever, some even emboldened.
But, what of their disparate arguments? Has anything about these changed?
I am a registered Independent. My Republican friends who have ventured into the arena of discussion seem unified in their intent to juxtapose the violent protests and looting of the past summer, largely represented – it is alleged – by the BLM and Antifa movements, against what has been termed the Capitol Insurrection.
But, can these be fairly compared?
What the two scenarios do share cannot be denied. Both drew throngs of people. Both were colored by passionate, emotionally driven behavior. Both resulted in the loss of life, and that at the hands of brutality.
But, what of the reasons? Can the behavior of mobbing humans ever be rationalized?
In both cases, we must give regard to motive. We must first reach some understanding of that which brought each about if we are ever to either define, defend or, ultimately, quell their destructive effects.
Initially, the spread of the coronavirus through communities largely poor or otherwise underprivileged impacted their cultural inclination to gather together. The killing of George Floyd by several law enforcement officers sparked a smoldering, long standing rage among those already prevented from taking to their own neighborhoods during this pandemic; in droves, the disenfranchised black and, further, Latino and LGBTQ communities rallied in defiance of this one, pivotal act of aggression against them which represented an endless number of such abuses. Backlash against being physically restrained took fuel from decades of societal suppression, yielding demonstrations in the streets of a scope rivaling those many of us witnessed during the Vietnam conflict.
Initially, those of either the same mind or who sympathized viewed these demonstrations as acceptable, even peaceful, several locales managing them without incident. But, when reports came down the pike that many had turned aggressive, destroying privately owned storefronts and damaging Federal buildings, those of opposing mind capitalized on the news and featured such footage repeatedly on choice broadcasts until the prevailing interpretation became one fraught with violence, looting and conflagration.
Rumors also entered the fray. The Black Lives Matter movement, dissenters argued, had its roots in aggressive social disruptors; further, subgroups like Antifa, deliberately radical but subversive, had taken cue to mobilize. Defenders of the protests blamed both for the unfolding violence. Those standing in accusation faulted certain politicians and the major news media.
As the Presidential election loomed, and in vivid contrast with the dark, fiery demonstrations, political rallies for Donald Trump increased in frequency and fervor. Those of the opposing party cited a noticeable absence of compliance with pandemic protocol, and worried about a massive surge in cases of the virus. Trumpers, in turn, looked at the demonstrators and called foul. The issue of masks vs no masks took to the mats; which side was more culpable in the coronavirus spread?
But, even as nothing would prove more persistent than Covid-19, the rift between those in favor of social equity and those loyal to Donald Trump widened. If subversion was the fuel, both Q Anon, a conspiracy-led fringe group, and the white supremacist Proud Boys were the armies flanking the President who, himself, would not publicly denounce them. What ensued would prove more pernicious than the now ubiquitous disease.
Many have appeared in print suggesting that the White House knew what was brewing in the pipeline. The demonstrating disenfranchised had made their point; the election results were proof enough. Oh, but wait; now, the validity of the entire vote was in question. Recounts were called, and completed; tabulations were made, round two. Results confirmed a new President had been elected. But, the division among the people had matured to grotesque proportions, leaving no American sure: had their votes meant anything, at all? Which President would be installed on January 20th, 2021? Up to and including the day Congress convened to certify, even the oldest among military veterans was experiencing PTSD in anticipation.
Nearly a week has passed, since the outcome of what began in the halls of the United States legislature and ended in terror. To compare anything which preceded the acts of that day to their ultimate effect on every person still capable of breath is to deny them utterly. Social unrest with historical precedent, however widespread, has its roots in legitimate protest; but, such action does not threaten the very foundation of the government of a civil society.
With the advent of the attack on our Capitol, we’ve moved far beyond the sake of argument. Winning the debate is futile. Our core beliefs about that which constitutes civilized behavior have been cut with shrapnel. Our confidence in the institution which governs our democratic process has been mortally wounded, first by poisonous propaganda and finally by a war waged between mere loyalty and that which is worthy of our trust.
If any common ground remains upon which to place our shaking feet, it is to be sought after with avowed focus and determined effort. Let us put aside grievance, accusation, grudge, and vilification, and put our precious energy into saving the nation into which we were born, bred, or brought. That which divides, conquers; we must be made whole, at last, while we can still call ourselves free.
Two men had said “I love you” to her within five years of each other. They were both drunk.
Why she attracted only drunken love was beyond her.
Or, was it?
Drunks are smarter than the average bear, all the pundits claim. Deeper, too. Why they find themselves among the 15% who become enslaved to alcohol is also the fault of their brains; something about the amygdala and an obscure, but potent, enzyme. She thought enzymes were what made food dissolve in the stomach but, on this morning after New Year’s Eve, she was already short on sleep and in well over her head.
Her family heritage was a red flag all by itself. Paternal grandfather an alcoholic (and, womanizing wife beater); maternal grandfather a pious tee totaler, but not his father ( descendant of William the Conqueror ). The men drank; the women enabled them.
One brother had become enamored of wine and Frangelica in his senior years. The younger had admitted to a lunching phase with his construction crew decades earlier which had gotten “somewhat out of hand”. She, being the lone girl in an ultra-conservative family milieu, and duly branded by the fear of God, had vowed never to stock the stuff. But, perhaps her pheromones smelled not of musk but of barley hops; among all the men in the room, the one who walked crooked would find her, first and every time.
What of the laws of nature, specifically chemistry? Was there something in her DNA that had already charted the course of her hapless love life?
If identical twins raised apart could choose the same shampoo and winter coat, would the female descendants of alcoholics be pre-destined to couple with the addicted who sought them? And, why? Was it all merely nature in search of equilibrium?
One of the two love professors had been in her sphere for four, fractured years. By his cycling binges and tears, and the lies which drove them, she’d found herself exhausted. The other had been part of her professional world for most of its life. On a scale of compatibility, there was no contest; what really mattered was whether and what she needed on not only the first day of 2021 but the veritable rest of her granted life.
Intelligence was a requisite; clouded by poison and a predictable descent into infantilism, not so much. Charm had worn itself out, especially the inebriated variety; what good was a witty opening line at closing time? Health and vitality were increasing commodities; whence these? “ Hey, baby; how’s your liver ? ”
She loved with immediacy, and exclusively, but committed with caution. If time hadn’t actually passed, it had nevertheless taken a cumulative toll. Being convinced, or not, of love required time; being actually nourished by love would take more than gaping need or empty promises, however familial.
Life was an open question. Love was supposed to be the answer. Perhaps time, like the lucidity which follows stupor, would illuminate.
The sun streamed in, through the window. Her final three breaths formed pockets in her throat, as we held hands for the last time.
Those are the moments which color my memory of the end of my mother’s life.
Her death had so many merciful aspects. Wracked by arthritis for many years, her body’s terminal diagnosis came on the heels of an apparently painless encroaching brain malignancy, glioblastoma. Those five and a half weeks transpiring from biopsy result to hospice were a swift decompensation of all faculties, her smile being the last to go.
Normally an acute observer of human behavior I had inexplicably missed any telltale sign that she was gravely ill, as stunned as the rest of the family when the news came down. I’d been particularly certain that the successfully excised melanoma fifteen years prior meant we’d have our Mum well into the ninth decade, just like her mother before her.
In the years following her passing, many features of her departure would provide increasing comfort. The timing. The tempo. The absence of protracted agony. If she had to leave us then, at least she hadn’t lingered into the confines of old age or been forced to endure any awareness of her body’s decay. And, most of all, I was grateful to have been there, by her side, in her final weeks. There would be no match for presence, I’d realized, particularly when my beloved father was already gone minutes before I could appear at his.
Today, we wait alone in our homes, imagining the countless strangers – at whose bedside those they have only come to know within days to hours stand, sit, or watch. Perhaps each has been half consciously aware as the nurse assigned to them makes every attempt to make all moments meaningful. Perhaps both feel the other’s hands in their own. The angel beside the bed cries the tears of a thousand loves, as the rest of us wail in our hearts with collective mourning.
Thus will be our memory of the living end of 2020.
This time, the title would come from her muse, Mr. Keillor. But, while his was Perfect, hers sounded much more like many others, perhaps for the first time in her own life.
Beyond piano or cello, writing was her succor. And, moments ago, clamoring to the keyboard of letters had been an act of quiet panic. Hurry, get it typed in, before you weep uncontrollably. That was the picture.
Sobbing the body needs, but the heart demands both an object and an outlet. She’d devoted hers, utterly, to someone who could not return to her love, whose ghosting absence was successfully crushing.
The reality that it had all happened on Christmas was just more proof of a level of oblivion; apparently, there were those to whom the holy observance was just another day. Or, an effective tool capable of sending one, life-draining message: I don’t. want. you.
Advice had come in droves, in direct proportion to blessing; those most blessed had the most to say. Blessing was proclaimed by the blessed. Only those who were actually in the gut-punch of bereft abandonment, these kept their advice to themselves.
The house was warm. The view, white and wondrous. The silence, frightening.
Her kitchen was stacked with boxes. Gifts, several, for the one who could not reciprocate. So many who would have felt her love had she redirected it not named among the packages. Loathing self now came to mind.
Those who got paid to define it all would say that thoughts were not us, that they may plague our heads but we’d have the power to at least subsume them. Not on Christmas Day. This day was all about feelings, and memories of feelings, and recollections of those who’d given us security and the belief that we would never be left alone. And, the best among them had encouraged us to accept that, even though we could neither see nor feel God, we were loved in ways that surpassed all human understanding.
A few of these had lived by example that to give was better, that to give all would bring not just the desires of the heart but fulfillment of every need. Her mother was one of these. She’d sacrificed her entire breath for others, pressing and plodding on until the tumor invaded the space where she formulated and articulated her thoughts and morphine carried her over while she slept. On this Christmas Day, random assignment of blessing and fulfillment felt far more believable. There was a certain clarity in this kind of logic.
Speaking of which, her body had chosen to take what it needed through the morning and into the afternoon. Like death, or coma, the merciful absence from less bearable reality was the gift of sleep. Perhaps the homeless understood.
Her heart felt homeless, today.
And now, in just a few more days, hundreds of thousands might be on the brink of being so. Responsible citizens, many with children, with no place to lay their heads. She’d been writing about her own life but, on this Christmas morning, now represented the impending innumerable.
God had spoken. Perhaps the All Knowing had chosen her to suffer these by feeling their need.
The garment was well designed, as clothing would go. Horizontal, fruity hues, a flat floral motif superimposed. It followed her around, like dress did, demurely, as she moved about transferring boxes of gifts prepared to be wrapped. He was annoyed by it. Something else begging to be noticed in his meticulously normalized life.
He told her she looked nice.
Her kids were gathered about the kitchen island, heads elevated, eyes downcast, awaiting their cues to begin, too old now for Santa. Too many cookies had been baked, decorated, and eaten already, blood sugar clearly in descent. He was annoyed, again. The trip in from the city had been a slog, and he’d wanted to remain to address loose ends. Holidays always threw a kink in it.
This year, admittedly, had been different. He knew his perceptions did not exist in a vacuum. Perception. Craving the integration of mutual experience, ultimately – at least by way of reaction. Reluctantly, he’d acquiesced to the reality that even he could not control the scene into which all mankind had been thrust. Perception must yield to perspective. Yet, feeling his vitals stir, he was also unable to ignore that the whole thing had revived a nagging, indefinable need manifesting in increasing restlessness of mind and, now, body. Where were the salad tongs, for the last time, and why was the countertop not cleared for food prep? He wanted to go back and just start over. He was aging way before his time.
The family was mercifully stable. At least, presently. This was to his credit, wasn’t it? He’d appeared, provided, fulfilled expectations, been reliable. But, this year, gathering had been omitted. Festivity always created the scene in which relative value found definition. Years prior, there would always be a prospect, deliciously absent, the object of subconscious reference as he moved about those in any attendance. Anticipation, the driver of all realization, fueled his action; he could make anyone feel welcome at the party, with the unacknowledgeable waiting elsewhere in his wings.
This year, there would be no cloaking convocation. He felt exposed in his own kitchen. Familiarity had lost its comforting luster. Every crumb in the sink was a pebble in his path. He wanted to set a fire somewhere and breath deeply of its choking smoke.
Normalcy. Vastly overrated. In one fluent strike, he pierced the stainless steel basin with the point of a carver, wiped his forearms of residual moisture, turned, and walked out of the room, heading down the narrow hall and out the door. What he sought was calling him, and this time he could clearly hear.
People don’t write them much, anymore. Back before we were thrust into this electronic life, the letter was that exquisite stage of polite hopefulness that protectively preceded use of the telephone. Phone calls were so irrevocable; nothing exchanged could ever be retracted, reconstituted, or dismissed, so we never took them lightly. Writing allowed us to take our time, and say what we actually meant.
So, I’ll just send myself back in time a bit, and pour out my heart in silence. By the time you open this, it’ll be Christmas Eve, and nobody’s going to be reading blogs, anyway. As I write, most people would have been wrapping presents; but, with this year having become the disaster we’re still enduring, many might just be wrapping up finalized plans to eke out something they’ll call Christmas for the children in their lives. I’m childless, so I play aunt by mail for the holidays.
So, you won’t know it’s you. You won’t. I’ve had so many. Doctors. And, lately, after one particular kidney stone debacle, this could be any one of you. It’s a risk of exposure I’m willing to take. Comes with the rank, after all; in many circles, I qualify as a senior citizen now and, in the East at least, with age comes a certain entitlement. In short, if I ever thought I had anything to claim, now I have absolutely nothing to lose.
Yes. This letter is for you. Call it a thank you note gone wild. If you haven’t stopped reading already, you’ll see.
I probably already did. Thank you. But, there is so much more that can be and should be said, and then the part that most everyone else might omit.
Perhaps the covid pandemic is the informing driver but I am compelled, and so you must be told.
You must be told that what you provide is far more than that for which you trained. Just as I believe diagnostic ability to be a gift, I see that which you embody. Compassion possesses you; your countenance bears it. An inborn tolerance for the needs of the other to express, to disclose, to carry on, to exhaust each option. A recognition that to be heard is first, and all. This is who you are.
I’ve been taken by every Machiavelli that ever crept out from under a rock. Gender unspecific. I’ve also known emotional tyrants, a couple of these from within my kin. Being totally open has its points, but successfully protecting self is not one of them. When one subjects oneself to another, on any level, the degree of confidence required is enormous; with a doctor, one’s very life is laid on their altar.
This pandemic has called from every physician every ounce of willingness to shed self. Whether treating infected patients directly, or practicing in tandem with those who do, you have reminded each of us daily, sometimes hourly, just how vital your commitment to protecting our lives is in each one of them.
I spent the last nearly four years at very close range with a registered nurse. In so doing, I learned the scene of the medical professional, nearly first hand. But, that time spent produced a certain discernment. Not every health care worker actually cares. Not every trained professional either listens or hears. And when, suddenly, every life potentially hangs in the balance, that distinction looms large.
Thankfully, though in the grand scheme comparatively brief, your encounter with me was redemptive. Without either knowing or intending, you provided. You didn’t just fulfill a requirement; you met a need. And, while that need was neither emergent nor critical, your role was essential. You represented yourself, authentically. In so doing, you earned that which I no longer give freely, least of all to any doctor: my trust.
Since I have had Chinese music students, in the past, I’m wondering who is following my blog from China. Might you introduce yourselves? I am having trouble ascertaining who from among my followers list is hailing directly from China. Are you also musicians?
Please enter a comment, below this blog entry, so that I know your name(s).
The idea for her next piece had come during a drive around the local state park, taking in the last burst of color before its erasure by the wind. She was anxious to begin. The title alone was so compelling; she could already feel the thing writing itself.
Yet, oddly, a thought intruded: one quick Google might be in order. Best to rule out whether her gem had erupted from another in some deep, subconscious past.
Fearfully, she pulled up the search bar. Sure enough; at least two, both of them published, had already coined the phrase, one as far back as 1997. The moment was heart sinking.
Her mind sought solace, in reverie.
1997. That had been a year. She’d spent its post-Braveheart winter completing a screenplay to star Mel Gibson, the summer gallivanting up the California coast and across to the UK for the Edinburgh Fest. No time for a book review, let alone a book. Besides, her larynx had developed a pesky resistance, stuck in head voice for hours at a time; and, forced to leave her precious elementary string program (bumped by a seniority bid) she’d endure the fall and early winter teaching middle school chorus, reduced to a rasping breath by day’s end.
Come spring, after a bout with bronchitis which had left a three week hack in its wake, her fate seemed sealed: laryngoscopic surgery, slated for St Patrick’s Day, in Pittsburgh. She’d spend the rest of 1998 enduring its laser focused rehabilitation. No time for a leisurely book review, or even a book; the risk of absent minded coughing or even throat clearing lurked, at every moment. No time, either, to take a phone call from a prospective literary agent. Besides, while away she’d let a frustrated creative house-sit; he’d used the phone she’d dictated as off limits because of its receiver’s annoying habit of cutting the line. Had there been any call backs, none would have registered.
Her next pre-emptor appeared in 2015. They shared one commonality; both were anonymous bloggers, casting their carefully cultivated and diligently edited pearls before any number of earnest freshman composition students and swine.
The most recent, in spring of 2020, would be by far her most formidable: former CEO of the aforementioned search engine monopoly. Perhaps he had sent her routing out the competition with a penetrating thought weapon. After all, how dare anyone attempt to supplant his definitive take – on anything!
So how, now, to proceed? Pretend that she somehow possessed a distinctive version of an image so vivid, indeed more timely than ever?
Unlike her predecessors, hers was neither embodiment nor apologism but a sweeping observation. Her intent was to characterize those who could not or would not bow to prudence, refusing or unwilling to acknowledge the gravity of either forewarning pronouncement or prophecy. She would out every leap of faith, all abdications of reason, each act of denial in one grand gesture of indicting condemnation. If she had anything to say about it, the virtual world would be wiped clean of the last of the insufferable optimists.
If you passed Laurie Garrett, on the sidewalk, would you look twice?
She’s not tall. Her hair is a warm, curly brown. Her features are small and even and, when she smiles, she’s pretty. Carrying a bit of excess weight around the midsection, common among women of her age who spend most of their time indoors or outside in their own yard, in terms of type she’d qualify as a pleasant looking matron – perhaps given to knitting or reading, possibly employed part time as a cashier in a craft store.
Laurie Garrett isn’t a cashier in a craft store.
In 1996, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism for her series of works published in Newsday, chronicling the Ebola virus outbreak in Zaire. Laurie Garrett wrote “The Coming Plague”, predicting the viral scourges we’ve endured since the publication of its first edition in 1994. During the coronavirus pandemic she has been sought out, to both remind of her visionary predictions and foresee outcomes, across all media.
Day was, people did fit into type. On or about the 1950s, you could tell most everything about anyone, just by looking at them. A woman in a pillbox hat and a box knit suit, carrying a pocketbook in her gloved hands, walking on a downtown sidewalk in a pair of pointed pumps was probably a housewife out shopping. If she were unmarried, and respected, she would not be walking alone – shopping or not. Not downtown.
By way of contrast, a man in a fedora and brown single breasted suit, narrow tie, white shirt, and dark Oxfords walking on the same sidewalk would be on his way back to work after lunch at a downtown cafe restaurant. He’d likely own his business, perhaps as a merchant or insurance salesman, and keep regular hours from about 8 am til 5pm. He could be single, or married, but that status would matter little to his perceived image.
Point is, unless you were either of these characters, you’d likely not spend any time on that sidewalk.
If a man, you’d be at the shop, in overalls, grease on your forearms, sleeves rolled to the elbow, oil on your hands, shoes drip stained from it, standing at your station running your semi-automatic until the horn blew for lunch. After 3 or 4pm, you might be seen heading up a side street to the bus stop, tin lunchbox in hand or, if you earned enough, driving home in your Buick sedan.
A woman, working in the same shop, would be there part time. Hair wrapped to cover pincurls, flat shoes, shirtwaist cotton dress, homemade apron, hands slathered with Pro-Tec to make washing the oil off easier at the house, she’d be working because there wasn’t enough money coming in from her husband – or, her father, if she lived at home.
These would be they whom you would have been. There would have been nobody else – because you would have been white. If you had not been white, you would never have been on that sidewalk or in that shop. Your absence would have been its own type.
Now, Laurie Garrett can stay at home and write and publish her wisened, warning prophecies, then make dinner in the small kitchen, spend her evenings doing whatever she pleases, and take her interviews for a fee.
Society has evolved. Type is becoming self-deleting. Now, any character can be summoned, at any given, arbitrary moment, to fulfill any fancy, or not. A perfectly presented person, dressed as a man but wishing he were a woman, could walk the sidewalk of the day, return to his or her dwelling, take a poison, and be done, and not a single expectation would be realized.
And, Laurie Garrett might have already written the story.
*Author’s Note: Having just completed a final edit on what I thought was [my] definitive piece on tonight’s event, herewith another. It must be the Klondike bar and the two Snicker’s ice creams, still coursing through each synapse. Notwithstanding the caffeinated drive, it’s time.
Who are these people?
They, who turn out in droves – unmasked, roaring, nearly hysterical in their devotion to the man who rails right back in their faces, spewing half or fully fleshed lies never fact checked by any of them, declaring himself their saviour, glory hallelujah, his version of the truth still marching on?
The people. Yes. Who are they?
To my eyes, having either been or worked among every class and station – from floor mopper to dishwasher to short order cook; to server, to clerk, to merchant; machinist, to shop owner, to skilled craftsman; engineer, to architect, to executive; instructor, to clinician, to professor; researcher, to documentarian, to published reviewer; performer, to producer, to artist and visionary…Donald Trump’s people are found to populate three, distinct yet not unrelated groups: a.) the indefatigable Evangelical Christian Right; b.) those of largely deferred intellect who have devoted their lives to the assembly line, and b.) those of incredible, accumulated wealth – who hire them.
Of these groups, taken together, the latter two are inextricably bound; one cannot exist without the other. And, unlike the former ECR, neither is exclusive to any particular race or creed.
What of the military-industrial complex imagined by, who was it, Harry Truman? The birth of the assembly line bred more than endlessly produced mass quantity; it evolved an entire mentality, committed to vapid, repetitive motion for hours at a time, five days per week, every week of every year, minus earned vacation time the breadth of one of them. Only the rare creative had a mind capable of escaping the task into the realm of imagination, perhaps to reserve what scant energy remained at day’s end to apply such pursuits.
The moment, if one can be isolated, is pivotal; every American who covets their job on that line, in that factory, at that counter, and every elite from upper management who seeks to protect a glorious lifestyle comparatively unburdened by the weight of taxation – whether earned honorably, or bestowed – has an interest. A vested interest, heavily invested, that shall not be moved.
No movement, no progression – toward evolving away from assembly line drudgery to supplanting artificial intelligence – engenders anything but abject fear. Fear, of utter loss – their only productive identity melded to and branded by the very work to which they have sacrificed their lives.
The notion that total upheaval of the internal structure of that military-industrial complex, to: a.) accommodate solar and wind power; b.) displace fossil fuels, and c.) replace product materials with the biodegradable and non-toxic can be realized through re-training and upgrading is met with ferocious resistance. Why?
Mentality is entrenched. Re-structuring systems does not a new mentality make. That which is unfamiliar is a perceived threat. Add to that equation the aging of the relevant population and you have a flank of refusal. The door is barred. Rather than endure the rigors of metamorphosis, the shop would rather shut.
The path, therefore, of least resistance is provided for them all. His name is Donald J Trump. No matter that his primary motive is self serving; in a twist of unavoidable irony, his megalomania serves the need of a massive throng, a culture of stubbornness borne of the security of familiarity and acute absence of vision. They who stand at the conveyor from sun up to the horn at day’s end, and those who own them, get to keep that to which they have become accustomed. Any revelation pertaining to the degree to which their actions poison or otherwise destroy the very earth under their feet or the water which sustains them is summarily dismissed, if only because it doesn’t fit their narrative of honorable employment and income.
If leadership for the people by the people shall not perish from the Earth, hadn’t it better be immersed in creating an awakening toward possibility rather than the sting of fright? How people feel, even to those whose emotional response, whose inner life, has been dulled to the point of distant memory, is still a vital aspect on the road toward human health and sustainability.
But, such a leader had better recognize the magnitude and importance of the task at hand, because Donald Trump has captured how the entrenched define their personal worth and provided an apparent path for its continued realization. No matter that he is a dishonest businessman, a shrewd manipulator of systems, and an arrogant ass; he validates those who lack the intellectual reach to imagine a life beyond the one they hold as close to their vests as the next shallow breath they take.
Click on the link below, to hear best selling author, Thomas Friedman, declare the names of the states already IN TRANSITION to alternative fuels and address whether there are jobs for the “thick-fingered” worker:
Surveying the dog sheet curled over the pillows, the rumpled blue and brown fleece. The little bowls, on the dresser. The three, inverted, grey and white socks, on the floor just near the child’s rattan chair draped with those pewter hued gym pants which always fit her just when she needed them.
The hallway, dog bone chards embedding in the terry tufted rugs from Ollie’s. Stand alone heater, always almost enough to cut that blood clotting, bone deadening chill. The Young Chang, hopelessly out of tune, against the central wall.
She’d had that old workhorse for nearly thirty years. Almost feeling again the giddy suspension of all reason which had moved her to hire the guy to haul it all the way out to this living room, even her own piano had become part of the deep, inextricable familiarity of these surroundings.
Familiar meant comfortable. Comfortable meant secure. Secure meant the hope of enduring life. How does one turn away?
Little Fitz Willie the cat, silent. Imploring. Bella wriggling. Brody gazing. The birds.
She loved. Like the earth, under foot.
His grandfatherly, cumin scent. Stumbling to the kitchen, hair Kewpie coiffed, for the ground morning cup. Crouched, ready for the bathroom well before she would ever be. Grousing, endlessly, in glorious malcontentment, through an entire day and into the end of it.
This couldn’t be the end, of anything. She knew it all, too well.
How were we to know that being panned for an entire Saturday in late summer would render this self – involved blogger intensely concerned that she had offended, what, an entire following collective with just one, indirect reference to a specific national heritage*?
Having toyed with taking a more brazen stance, I’d opted instead for a sort of meandering through device and subtlety, just seeing where one word would direct the next. My intentions were almost too much, even for me to face; addressing the whole thing under veil of inference was somehow safer.
So much for safe. Haven’t we been preoccupied by safe, for the better part of the last fifteen years?
I mean, I could have done the simple thing. I could have said that I’d seen a boy again whom I’d adored from a distance at a tender phase of life, a boy who, in genuine appreciation for my having jumped to the Coda precisely when he did, went the extra step and had a bouquet of flowers delivered to his accompanist’s door.
But, that would have been just too naked.
I couldn’t expose a man who’d attended an Ivy league school, been married for years, sired three sons, established a successful professional practice, and then returned home to say goodbye to his father. Rather, waxing on and off and on again about his character, and how it was sourced, with bits about how much I honored him for everything his gesture represented at a time when I couldn’t have known how pivotal such an act would be to me in my own life? That seemed almost worthy.
I saw a boy again. And, it was nice. And, I wanted it to mean something. But, of course, it could only mean what it was. Just a nice little chat, at his father’s wake. Not some treatise on the comparative theological value of Judaism. Not the apologist’s view of the Jewish character from a Gentile-based mentality. No study of social construct; no mask for ulterior motivation. Just a little visit, with the boy who played Sabre Dance on the xylophone in 1974.
Call me some kind of bigot; I really have no defense. I do not know the meaning of “Anti-Semitism.” If you think you do, then by all means, judge me and cast me off.
You hated fireworks; they reminded you of the “screaming meemies.”
You loved parades; they reminded you of the day you earned Corporal for having marched your unit into parade for the dignitaries as lead bugler.
You loved your independence, yet treasured home – the dry roof over your head, the three, square, home-cooked meals a day, the wife, the children…..and, “the shop”, your place of business that you established as barber.
But, you never forgot the War.
Nobody could come up behind you without warning, be it light or dark, without being whirled upon with that black dart from eyes which knew the threat of momentary death. You could still see the faces of those who dropped beside you in the midst of battle. Eighty-some years later, you could still see. You could still feel the cold snow at the Bulge, surrounded by the enemy, and the tickle in your throat as you vainly suppressed a cough. You always remembered, because you could not forget.
Yet, miraculously, those eyes never lost their depth or their twinkle. That throat never lost its tuneful warble. Those hands never lost their tender touch. You felt the everlasting arms of Providence, and were carried through.
I bow to your memory today, and every day. Fathers are many, and daughters abound; but, you were a standout, and I love and honor you forever.