Rage

I am by nature a thoughtful person, slow to anger. People close to me can attest that I may get annoyed or agitated easily, but anger is something I feel very infrequently. In fact, I am often criticized for my extremely long fuse. I believe wholeheartedly in seeing both sides of an issue and in giving people, and situations, the benefit of the doubt. I know people who are good human beings with good hearts and values who voted for Donald Trump. I believe that they believe they did a good thing.

Friends who voted for Trump, I know you are angry and feel that the US government had stopped representing your interests. I know that you think liberal America had taken over and that the arrogance of “liberals” meant that values and ways of life near and dear to you had been abandoned. I may certainly be guilty of that. I know you want good jobs to stay in the US, that you want the right to own a gun, that you want Christian values, as you define them, to be the life’s blood of our nation and for independent, hard working Americans to stop getting the shaft.

But what havoc have you wrought in your revolt? You just elected a thoughtless, feckless, craven narcissistic thug to run our nation. You expected this billionaire to care about your life of struggle? This man three times married who brags about pussy grabbing to uphold your Christian values? A man who uses immigration to get women he likes into the nation but who denies that privilege to those fleeing war and persecution?

My life’s work was about the creation and execution of meaningful, helpful public policy. I cannot stand by while someone whacks away at laws he does not understand with a machete in the form of a pen. You think you elected a man of action? Well, someone who invades a family’s home in the night and bludgeons them all to death is also a man of action, but obviously not of character.

Week one and people’s health care is no longer protected, people who legally arrived on our shores have been turned away without warning, a pipeline has been approved to go right through our native peoples’ sacred lands, wealthy individuals without any relevant experience have been nominated to run our nation’s State Department and education agencies (among others), the president refuses to disclose information that may contain evidence of clear, indisputable conflicts of interest, supports the use of torture against individuals who have not undergone due process of law, and the list goes on and on.

I no longer care if someone’s feelings get hurt or if we share space on social media. I cannot in good conscience stand by idly while this goes on. I am looking for opportunities to act. Will use my own pen and my own telephone and my own body if need be to fight against this. It has now gone beyond politics and differences in how we manage our economy or our military. I will join with those who resist. I cannot let this crazy man ruin my country without at least trying to stand up against him.

Sully

Two airline incidents remain vivid memories. Both happened on frigid January days. Both involved water. Both were terrifying low altitude disasters. They also had two very different outcomes.

On January 13, 1982 a Boeing 737 carrying 74 passengers and five crew crashed into the busy 14th street bridge in Washington DC before plunging into the Potomac River. One reason this crash has stuck in my mind so clearly is that I had dreamed of a plane crash the night before that. I regularly have airplane crash dreams, so I don’t believe this was an incidence of prescience, but with that anxious dream memory in my mind the crash was especially disturbing.

The outcome of this 1982 crash was that four of the five crew members died including the two pilots, 70 of the 74 passengers died, and four motorists who had been driving across the bridge were killed. The cause of the crash was, as is so often the case, due to multiple variables involving snow, ice and improper de-icing. But the main cause was that neither the pilot, nor the co-pilot, had much experience flying in those conditions and in spite of realizing that the plane was covered in ice they went ahead and tried to take off anyway.  They failed.

Compare that to January 15, 2009, eight years ago today, when Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully landed an airplane with no working engines on the Hudson River without hitting the George Washington bridge, without causing any injury to non-passengers and saving the lives of all 155 people aboard. I watched the news footage about this on the day it happened with appropriate awe. And yesterday, without realizing that it was the day before the anniversary of this incredible feat, I watched the film titled “Sully” and have been unable to stop thinking about it.

In this situation, an unpredictable event occurred that could not have been anticipated. The plane ran right through the middle of a flock of Canada Geese and lost all power to both engines. But unlike the Potomac crash, Sully had 42 years of flying experience. He and his first officer worked together in a trusting, coordinated way. And he knew what his options were and was able to run through them to make life saving decisions in the less than 5 minutes that flight was in the air. He had 308 seconds to do what he did. He also had the able assistance of his crew after the landing, where he stayed until he was certain everyone has been taken off the plane. He left last. He then insisted on waiting several hours after the landing to make sure that all 155 people were safe.

The movie version of “Sully” is not completely accurate. It makes the National Transportation and Safety Board standard inquiry required after any airplane incident into a McCarthy type trial, which is not what happened. As a former Fed, I am admittedly sensitive to the ease with which government employees are routinely vilified for doing their jobs. That said, the movie and the memories gave me something I really need right now, a story about a real American hero.

Civility

I have always looked at situations from many different angles as if life was one giant Rubik’s cube. I twist and turn assorted variables and look at them this way and that. It’s just how I think. I have learned that ultimately there is no one solution to life’s issues; just different perspectives. That is how I view the world; as sets of patterns and variables. Because I am human, I do have favorites. There are ways of seeing that I favor. But I also accept that there are other ways of looking at things that have merit.

Periods of ideological polarity make me incredibly uncomfortable and anxious. We see in history that times of extremism lead inevitably to periods of violence. This is always true. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, social systems cannot sustain ideological imbalance. Something will always give, and the result is always a lot of suffering. Mostly by innocent people.

So, theoretical discussion aside, I think we all know that we live in an increasingly polarized society. People have their own views, belief systems, ways of seeing things. And they have a right to see things their own way. The problem is that as a community, as a nation, we get to choose how we are governed and what laws govern us together. That gets to be difficult when we see things in very different ways. Some people want more government, some less. Or maybe, we all agree that we want fewer murders, but some think more guns are the answer, some less. This goes on and on and on. All of us approaching issues from our own experiences, backgrounds and beliefs. And no one perspective can “win” without others losing.

I think that many people, of good conscience and solid values, with differing viewpoints, wish that we could bridge the gaps that divide us and figure out a way to stand together as a nation and live harmoniously. But it’s hard to know how. Some of us post memes about our views, or expressions of frustration. Others clam up and keep to themselves. We all cope in our own ways, with anger, sadness, anxiety, action. Whatever gets us through.

I have been thinking about this a great deal. Trying to reconcile the fact that people I love and respect can think so differently about the world. Trying to see things from their perspective. Hoping that they are doing the same about people who think and feel differently than they do. Wondering how to bring our country, our communities, our families together instead of endlessly tearing each other apart. And my only solution, or maybe not even a solution, but a path, is the path of civility. A value that is sorely lacking right now.

Civility is more than agreeing to disagree. Civility implies a measure of respect in spite of differences. Respect involves genuine consideration, and even caring, about those who are like and not like us. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are situations when we must stand up to violence, injustice and violations of human rights even if it means responding in kind. And that time may well be upon us. But I also believe that as we interact with our follow citizens in the world each day, we can do a lot more good by working to build bridges rather than tear one another apart.

I have been taking extra care to think about how I behave in the world lately. To try to be aware of the everyday kindnesses of strangers, of my interactions with other people. To be a little more kind and patient myself. I am not so naive as to think that me holding a door for someone will save the world. What I do think is that spending a little more time being aware that we are all human, all frightened of something, all wanting happiness and security, is a good place to start.

 

 

 

 

 

On Oversharing

My biggest hesitation about this blog was that it would be the oversharing equivalent of Mount Rushmore, my face carved into the mountains of my own neurotic grandiosity yelling “look at me and what I’m doing and thinking! Isn’t it, and by association aren’t I, interesting?” As I could certainly be accused of insecure attempts at attention getting and praise in my life, my oversharing fear is probably more reality based than I would like. People I like and respect are going to wonder why the heck I’m spewing all this stuff in public. And it’s a fair question. One I pondered before starting the blog and one I continue to consider.

But here’s the thing… I hate journaling because I hate writing to no one. I always have. For a short period in my life I wanted to be a journalist. One semester of classes had me changing my major to something else, but I considered it. I also thought about writing fiction and I am still mulling over the possibility of freelance non-fiction writing. Even when I don’t write things down, the way I think about things in my head is a constant exercise in writing. I don’t just think my thoughts, I edit them, consider better ways of expressing them. I think in metaphors that stretch out for hours as I consider the ways in which concepts and situations and things relate to other things. It’s chaotic and noisy in my mind and putting it down and sharing it with other people helps me feel less alone with it all.

My hope is that if people don’t want to read this stuff, they simply won’t. That anyone who does read it finds my rambles slightly interesting or entertaining. I will say that this particular blog post is a bit of a stand in because I am trying desperately to find a way to talk about my thoughts and feelings regarding the recent election that takes me to a better place about it all. I have one almost completed blog post about it, but I just keep coming up on dead ends and black holes as I keep trying to get a handle on it all. So I might just write about other topics for a while. For today, this is all I’ve got.

 

 

 

 

The Miracle

Tomorrow, January 5, 2017, a date which will live in infamy, marks the 7th anniversary since I had a weight loss surgery called the vertical sleeve gastrectomy. Now, I’m not really much of an anniversary person. I keep track of milestones and note them mentally, maybe mention them to a few people on the occasion itself. I’m proud of my marriage anniversary because, quite frankly, I think it’s incredible anyone could live in such close proximity to me for this long. But January 5, 2010 is burned into my brain because it marks the day I succeeded at dealing with the thing that has haunted me since about age 10. My weight.

Every success comes with its own story. So here is mine. I do not know what got me hooked obsessively on overeating. Like so many things of this nature it is certainly a combination of factors. My childhood felt lonely and frightening to me. We didn’t really have any family around us for most of it. I had a single Mom who worked full time, went to school part time and was, I think, very overwhelmed and exhausted to be raising two little girls on her own. We never missed a meal, but money was tight. Food was rationed to some degree to make sure we had enough to get through the next week. My sister and I often recall our Friday night shopping trips with our Mom who had a little red clicker that she would use to add up the cost of the groceries as we shopped so we didn’t go over.

As a kid I spent countless hours trolling the streets of our Detroit neighborhood on foot or bicycle looking for cans and bottles so I could turn them into the store to get the deposit money. Later, I had a Detroit News paper route. I spent every dime I found or earned on candy and sugary treats at the little store up the street (a bodega in NY terms). I guess the good part of this was that I had to exercise a lot to get what I wanted. I was 10 when my Mom took me to Weight Watchers the first time. I know she was just trying to help. To keep me healthy and feeling ok about myself, but I was so humiliated. I felt like when I saw my grandparents there would always be at least one conversation about how much weight I had gained since we last saw them. I could hear them talking about me in hushed, disappointed tones. And I could see them watching how much I ate at every meal. It just made me want to eat more and so I would sneak food when we visited them and go hide to eat it hoping no one noticed the dwindling candy in the candy jar.

Puberty was not kind to me. I was horrified by what was happening to my body. I didn’t want adult woman parts. I didn’t want to dress up or wear makeup or be a girl. I felt deeply ashamed of my body and couldn’t figure out how to explain that to anyone or how to stop it. So puberty brought more weight gain and more shame.

I was able to lose weight pretty successfully a couple times. In high school I spent a summer eating almost nothing and exercising until I felt faint. I lost about 35 pounds and felt a lot better about myself for my senior year at 176 pounds. But it all came back and I started college weighing about 240 pounds. About 2 years into college I lost 45 pounds and felt pretty good at my low weight of 192.  But then, it came back. As always.

I spent many years buying and reading books about eating, dieting, eating disorders, nutrition. I dieted on and off. I prayed to whoever might be listening to help me lose weight. I was sure that if I could not lose weight I would be unemployable, unlovable, and a social outcast. I started to deal with my self hatred by forcing myself to do things in spite of the weight. I tried not to let it stop me. I did graduate from college with honors. I did get hired for a job. I did buy a house and date people, though perhaps not the best people. But I still fought with food and dieting and my weight all the time. And by age 34 I weighed 300 pounds.

That is the year I entered a relationship with my dear friend of almost 10 years, Sue. We became a couple. And four weeks after we got together, she was diagnosed with three types of cancer. Two kinds of breast cancer and a sarcoma. And for the next year she had 5 surgeries, six rounds of chemo,  and six weeks of radiation. After that cancer year, I weighed 329 pounds. I am only 5’2′ tall. That is a lot of weight to carry around. My back ached, I could hardly walk. We went to Busch Gardens one day when Sue had started to feel better and I had to get a cart to ride around in because I couldn’t walk the park. It terrified and humiliated me.

Shortly after that I found an eating disorder therapist. I went to see her for three years at least once every week. It was very hard. Very, very painful. And at the end of three years I had managed to stabilize my weight. I went from eating every meal of the day at fast food to doing that just a couple times a week. We ate at home more. My meals were more nutritious and I was down to about 310 pounds. And I stayed 310 pounds. For 7 more years. I tried and tried to exercise more and eat less. I continued to work on healthier eating, and did make great progress in eating more nutritious food.  Sue recovered from her cancer and we settled into our life together. I got promoted in Florida, and then to our Headquarters in Maryland. I got promoted again at Headquarters too, and still weighed 310 pounds. I was feeling pretty good about myself at this point. I had worked through a lot of stuff. Knew how to cook and eat healthy. Felt valued at work in spite of my weight. But I still couldn’t seem to decrease my portions enough to make a difference and lose a substantial amount of weight.

So I decided to have the surgery. For one thing, I was 42 years old at that point. I wasn’t yet diabetic or hypertensive or suffering from heart disease, but I could see it coming. The health indicators were moving in that direction. I needed to act before things got worse. But I was terrified about the surgery too, because it felt like my last chance to really get a handle on this issue. And what if I failed yet again? All I had ever known was failure around my weight. I figured win or lose I had to take the chance, so on January 5, 2010 I had surgery. I weighed in that day at 310 pounds. And one year later I weighed 194 pounds. I lost about 115 pounds. Now, 194 is still not skinny. But it did align with the weight I got to in college when I had been working out and eating well. And my weight just sort of settled there. I felt good and my health was good there so I switched to maintenance mode.

In these past 7 years I have continued to change a bit around my eating. I cook a lot and work hard to put more vegetables into my diet all the time. I know how to cook vegetarian and vegan options of many foods, but find I feel better when I have some meat in my diet. I can cook a lot more ethnic cuisines and know substitutes like applesauce instead of oil to make baked goods healthier. I have weighed as little as 181 after a difficult emotional period when I didn’t eat much at all for about four months and I have weighed as much as 213. But I basically stay between 195 and 205 at all times and try hard to correct as soon as that starts to change. I am also not a perfect eater. I still love sweets entirely too much and they go down much too easy. There are amazing differences though. I have never re-stretched my stomach out. I easily stop eating when I am full. I don’t feel deprived anymore. And most incredibly, food is no longer the thing that comforts me. I still like it a lot, but a bag of cookies or a container of ice cream can sit in my freezer for weeks and I either eat small amounts of it or even ignore it for days at a time. I go through periods of overeating and periods of eating very well, but I manage to keep it balanced.

I think this is by far my longest blog yet, and the least poetic. Its just that I never thought 7 years would go by and that I would have been able to maintain my weight loss with such minimal regain. I will definitely need to get a few holiday pounds off. Not so different from what everyone else does this time of year. And maybe best of all, it doesn’t feel like a miracle anymore. It just feels normal.

For Auld Lang Syne

I know I’m a day late on a New Year’s related post but it was hard to sort through the noise of the event itself and come up with a relevant topic. New Year’s Eve has, for me, traditionally been a time when I eat some junk food and go to bed by 10pm. When I was working I just couldn’t stay up that late. Last year, I stayed awake until midnight just so I could say to myself, “next year when I welcome the New Year, I’ll be retired”. This year, staying up was no problem as I have lapsed into my natural, but long abandoned, sleep cycle of going to bed at about 1am and waking around 10am. My retirement sleep schedule. So Sue went to bed at 10pm as per usual, and I watched documentaries on Netflix as per usual, and my best friend Kess (our downstairs apartment roomie) watched a documentary about the Donner party. An appropriate end, I thought, to our metaphorical national devouring of one another in 2016.

New Year’s Day was full of cooking our traditional breakfast and dinner, walking the dog and putting away Christmas decorations. And here I am, January 2nd already. The year 1/365th gone. And I woke up thinking today that I had not once heard anyone play “Auld Lang Syne” this year. I heard about the Mariah Carey debacle. But no old acquaintance be forgot. “Auld Lang Syne” is actually my favorite part of New Year’s Eve. The Scottish poet, Robert Burns, wrote the poem “Auld Lang Syne” in 1788. I tried to read Sue the original version with Scottish words intact and it lead to much hilarity here. “And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere! and gie’s a hand o’ thine! And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught, for auld lang syne”.  My Scottish language skills clearly need some polishing.

Anyway, there are two things so far that stand out to me as the very best things about being retired. The first is the gift of time. The ability to figure out who I am and what I want to do with this incredible luxury of time while I have good health. But the second thing is that with this gift of time I have been able to restore, and now nurture, relationships with friends I have made over my lifetime. People I love and who mean a great deal to me, but have been separated from me due to the vagaries of life, distance and so forth. My feelings for these people never dwindled, but sat in my heart in a state of sleepy hibernation. Overwhelmed by my focus on work, my immediate family, and day to day necessities they languished.

But now, I find myself opening up old friendships like the best and longest lasting Christmas morning of all time. I think it both wise and rewarding to heed the warning of Auld Lang Syne, that time is short and old acquaintances should not be forgotten. There are people I know with whom I have shared some of my life’s happiest, saddest, and most challenging times. That is a connection of inestimable value.

I look forward to new friendships and memories in my life, but I honor the ones I have already lived and the people with whom I lived them. This past year or two, I have asked people near and far, people I knew as a teenager, people I knew at work, people I knew from college, to come back into my life. Perhaps not in so many words, but by making time, and reaching out. And without a single exception, everyone has responded in kind. Every single one. So I think of my friends today and want you to know how grateful I am to know you and to have you in my life. For all we’ve shared and all we will share, I toast you this New Year!

“We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine; But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne. We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun til dine, But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne. And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand o’ thine! And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vulnerability and Fear

An invading army conquered a feudal Japanese village. The entire village ran away right before the invaders arrived with the exception of the local Zen master. When the general of the invading army heard about the man who did not run away, he went to the temple to meet this stupid man. When the Zen master showed no fear of the general, the general flew into a rage.  “Fool,” shouted the general as he reached for his sword, “don’t you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!” The Master then calmly replied, “And do you realize that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?”

This is my favorite story of all time. I first heard a version of it in college and I think of it a lot. In scary moments, or times when I have to face something challenging, I just say the end of it to myself like a mantra, “I can be run through without blinking an eye”. It gives me courage, girds my proverbial loins. I hear it in my mind, not so much in the Japanese setting, but in a more Shakespearean form. Because it actually quite pompous sounding. Some very English fellow with a mustached upper lip that is quite stiff says bravely, in his royal British accent (it’s likely Patrick Stewart) “Do you Sir, realize that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?” Mic drop. Shocked general just walks away.

The amusing thing about all this is that I do not remotely resemble the monk. My neurotic levels of fear and anxiety are legendary amongst family and friends. And the other irony here is that I am more likely to be sanguine about having my guts split open by a samurai than I would be about say, attending a party with friends. Or, providing oversight of a handyman making repairs in my house. Heck, I almost bolted from the house this morning just from hearing Sue play John Denver’s Greatest hits. Though, in my defense, that may be described more as disgust than fear. All I knew is that John and I might both be leaving on a jet plane, but I hoped they left from different airports.

This long intro is my way of saying that I am by nature a fearful, anxious person who desperately wants to live instead with a mental state of calm and equanimity. And so, to the degree I am able, I push myself to confront my fears a lot. I try to stay put in the village waiting for the general with steely nerve. I do this with varying levels of success. I managed to stay put in a career that terrified me each and every day for 25 years. But I was never able to stop being afraid. I confronted it over and over again, but I was not calm. I have managed to learn to speak in front of large groups with no fear. I can do parties, when required, and play the role of guest or host, but the energy it requires will cost me dearly later. Those who worked with me know I can take over a meeting, sometimes inappropriately, talking about my ideas or opinions, but that is a certain environment and I tended to get caught up in the topic and so forgot my fear. I am able to be married fearlessly. In fact, the safety I feel in my home is the bedrock of my strength. But my anxiety then comes around the inevitable loss of those I love as we continue to age. People you love dying is much worse than being run through yourself.

Being retired has been a great gift to me in many ways because I don’t have to meet the general as often. I don’t have to face my fears with so much intensity each and every day. But it also means I can get caught up in the spinning anxieties of my own thoughts. And it is compelling to stay by myself at home where it is safe and where I don’t have to try so hard or take chances. I don’t have to be exposed. I can run away.

This is where the blog comes in. Posting that first entry yesterday was terrifying.  I am not someone who lets random people become my Facebook friends. If you are on my friend list, you are someone who matters to me. We may not see each other often. We may not be close companions, but if you are there, I care about you. And I am taking a chance by sharing my thoughts and feelings with you. My hope is that I can write a lot of posts that are funny in the future. Things that will entertain. Perhaps thought provoking entries. But right now, as I enter into this, it leaves me startlingly, breathlessly vulnerable. And I am standing here trying not to blink an eye.

 

 

So What’s With the Blog Name?

I am just about to turn 50 years old, and I am a reflective person by nature. In my mind, the equation “50 years old + reflective = time to ponder death”. This may not be the solution to the equation for others, but its my brain and that’s how I roll. So, back to death. I have been thinking about it. A lot. And mind you, I am someone who has always pondered the nature of existence and its inescapable expiration date, so when I say death has been on my mind it turns me into a caricature of my already self absorbed, angst ridden self. Picture dark room, mostly consumed bottle of absinthe, copy of Nietzsche’s greatest hits on the bedside table and Mozart’s “Requiem” playing in background. That’s the scene set in my mind.

The events leading to this dismal scene keep sucker punching me- the late life yet deeply sad deaths of both my grandmothers, my proactive career end, menopause (not the musical), famous icons of my youth crossing the river Styx (though thank goodness not the band members themselves yet), and finally, nail in the coffin, the election of the host of “The Apprentice” as President of the United States of America. That final blow a bitter reminder to me that there are things worse than dying.

I’m reeling, mentally punch drunk from it all. Not sad so much as dazed and confused. What does this have to do with the blog title? Well, in spite of my morose state, I do tend to look for the good in things, the world and people. I’m relentlessly optimistic. And so, I have chosen the thing I love most about funerals, about deaths and endings, the eulogy, and decided to bring it into this time when the ends of things sit around me like so many abandoned bookends, and try to focus on what matters. What matters is what we say when people die. We think back to the central facets of who they are, and reflect those things about them that were the best, the most authentic, the kindest, the funniest. Even the flaws and the challenges of their lives become less about judgment and more about homage to the complexities of the life they lived. The life we all live.  The connectedness we all share.

I need that right now. I need to pay tribute to it, as eulogies do. I need to remember kindness, goodness and compassion so I can survive in this new reality. So I am writing Eulogies for the Living as both reminder and prayer. An active meditation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Falling

A friend once sent me a piece of Buddhist writing that described everything as falling. We, and all that we know, all that surrounds us, all that is… is falling. And the challenge is to learn to be comfortable as we fall. To relax into it. That is the way of the Tao, the river of existence. That is the secret password to enter nirvana, that is why we meditate on the breath, so that we can sail in the winds of the fall and perhaps see it as flight.

I don’t intend this blog to be too mysterious.  But all that I am as a person, all that I do, focuses on this one goal. To calm down, to breathe out fear and to breathe in peace. To connect with the plunge, to see that everyone else is afraid too, and to know that this understanding is at the heart of who we are and why we are in this together.

The year of the red fire monkey has consumed me. The world blazes with uncertainty. American dreams become nightmares. Icons falling stars. So to join in, I do the only thing I can. I write. I breathe it out as a heaving sigh. I write to remind me I am human and that I can survive the fall. Maybe even swan dive.