Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Golden

I love the golden light from that tree outside my son's bedroom window in the week after Thanksgiving. In another few days, every leaf will have fallen from that tree but today, it is glowing. It is like this every year: When everyone leaves after the weeklong festivities, I suddenly notice this tree, spilling its radiant color into the newly quiet air. It is always so peaceful in that room when the tree looks like that, a whisper of nature gentling me.
________

While my cousins were here for Thanksgiving week, we recreated a photo we took 35 years ago, in my storied railroad apartment on West 120th Street. There's absolutely no need to clarify which is the older photo and which the new. We are as close today as we were when the original photo was taken, and that is one of my life's great gifts. These women are my heart sisters.



Monday, November 27, 2017

Thanksgiving week















Cousins, nieces, nephews, friends all crowded into our three bedroom apartment, along with our son and daughter, for a weekend of non-stop communion, stories and laughter. My husband was happy. I did not spin anxiously. It was all so good.

And now, the hoards are scattering again. One niece went back to college yesterday. My cousin and her other daughter head back to Orlando tonight. One nephew took the bus home to Virginia yesterday while the other, the guitar player, is on his way to Israel tonight for study abroad. His mom is on her way to the airport with him at this moment, and she will travel back to Virginia tonight. Our last house guest, my cousin who lives in Trinidad, leaves in the morning. My son, my daughter, my niece, and their respective loves, are back at work today, prosaic routine reasserting itself.

We took just one, blurry family picture, but there we are, all together and healthy. I feel lucky and blessed.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving eve and morning

The sweetest thing: My son, daughter, and niece, who live in their own apartments now, all elected to sleep over at our house so they could awaken to the festivities, the cooking and blanket lounging and Thanksgiving Day parade watching this morning.

Last night, there were ten of us in the house, all the beds occupied, and the couches, too. We take over the kitchen in shifts. My husband made the mac and cheese last night, and my daughter made two scrumptious looking apple pies, then she and her dad seasoned the turkey, prepped the ham, and made a wicked sangria. I woke up and made the corn and cheese soufflé this morning, so that it could be out of the oven by 11 am, when the turkey needs to go in. My cousin is now in the kitchen making potato salad, after which my son will make my mother's sweet potato casserole topped with oven charred marshmallows, and then my husband will make broccoli in garlic and oil and a raft of roasted garden vegetables. The wine fridge is stocked, and even though dinner is not until 5 pm, some of the younger crew will arrive earlier than that, because being part of the pre-dinner preparation and Annual Dog Show watching chaos is part of the fun. 

I once read somewhere that the secret to a good party is a space that is too small for the people gathered, so that everyone is pretty much shoulder to shoulder, with no choice but to engage. I always remember that at Thanksgiving, when our three bedroom apartment seems to magically expand to accommodate the hoards. We have so much to be grateful for this year: My husband's steady recovery from open heart surgery in September—who would have guessed he'd be in the kitchen cooking the feast as usual? My daughter is at his side, trying to make sure he doesn't ignore doctors orders and lift anything too heavy. We're grateful, too, for my cousin now being cancer free, with pristine six month scans a week ago. It's been a tough year in some respects, but we've come through it, and now we're almost on the other side. Today, we will dare to exhale.







Happy Thanksgiving to all my lovely peeps out there in blog land. Being in this place together, writing our lives, the generous sharing of hearts, it helps keep me sane. On this day and all days, I am thankful for you, too.






Monday, November 20, 2017

Connection



I adore those days when our kids just hang out with us in the place where they used to live. Family members have started to arrive for Thanksgiving. My niece got here from college on Saturday, and my cousin flew in from Trinidad yesterday. My son came through to see his aunt and his cousin, and my daughter and her boyfriend were here till late last night, all of us drinking red wine and telling stories and laughing, while my daughter cooked apple pies from scratch. I had an OCD inspiration to completely clean out the fridge, throwing out old food and making everything that remained sparkling in anticipation of the hard use those shelves are going to see this week. I felt easy and happy in my skin, which is not my natural state. It occurred to me that life, being human, is about connection, but not with just anyone, much as that might be the ideal. In the intimacy of a life, it's about connection with those people with whom you can feel whole and just right, no matter how you show up. They love you and you love them, and it's not up for reevaluation. It just is. And will be.

How to Use a Life

On Saturday, my girl and I attended the memorial service for Gus Trowbridge, who with his wife Marty founded the K-8 school with a working organic farm that she attended. The service was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the turnout was huge. There were alumni from the sixties and seventies through the present decade, plus family and friends, and so many others whose lives were touched by this man who made such a difference during his 83 years on this earth. Christian, Islamic and Jewish prayers were spoken, and more than one person remarked that Gus had founded the kind of school that had been so formative in people's lives that fifty years later, they would show up for him. Indeed, no other school among the many fine ones I and my children attended would have had me sitting in that audience, my heart full to bursting.

Gus was a rare soul. I was overwhelmed as I listened to the memories people shared and sang the protest anthems that generations of our children had sung. As that special little school on East 96th Street offered them, these songs were neither cliche nor anachronistic, but unironic calls to action, as critical now as in the sixties. As we sang, I looked out over the sea of heads, all colors, all creeds, and tried to really take in the mark this one driven and hopelessly idealistic man had made on our world, simply by acting according to his conscience, and never giving up his dream of "a beloved community" in which, as he put it in the school's inaugural brochure, "differences are to be cherished." At the end of the service, we all linked arms and sang "We Shall Overcome," because the children of Manhattan Country School still do that to this day, and the message of that song resonates with them long after they leave the protected walls of the school and make their way in a less than perfect world. It's why the ACLU attorney who led the action to halt Trump's Muslim immigration ban, was a graduate of my daughter's school. Those kids always come down on the right side of history.

One man spoke, an MCS alum from the school's first graduating class in the early seventies. Before MCS, he had attended Dalton, an exclusive private school in the city, and one day his mother arrived and told him to get his things. He picked up his book bag. "No, get all your things," she said. "We're leaving." The mother had had an argument with the school principal about the Vietnam War, and she'd been appalled at the principal's position. As the mother was at the time dying of inoperable cancer, she did not wait around. "I am going to send you to a school," she told her son, "where there is a man who will teach you right from wrong when I am gone." That man was Gus. The whole church was crying as this former student spoke. And then he told us that in fact, his mother did not die, and we all broke out laughing through our tears. Gus would have liked that. He used to say that when he'd ask the graduating eighth graders what they wanted him to say in his speech about them, the answer was always the same: "Make us laugh, and make us cry." And Gus, an inspired writer and human being, always did. 

Gus and Marty Trowbridge founded a school where not only the ideals endure, but also the bonds of hearts. My friend Isabella and I sat together during the service, along with our daughters, who started out in Pre-K together. At the end of the service, we looked at one another and said, "Gus gave us each other."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

#LoveThePicture #LoveTheSoul


Happy 22nd to my wonderful nephew! 
Can't wait to see you and the cousin gang next week!


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Why she rambles, no one knows

For some reason I feel incredibly tired today, like I'm moving underwater. Weird. I went walking with a friend and neighbor last night, the two of us having engaged the battle of the pounds, and now we aim to add intentional exercise to the equation. I enjoyed walking and talking with her. We have so far known each other only in a casual way, though we lived for a while in the same building. Our sons are a year apart, and we'd sit on a bench when they were small, and share stories about schools, homework headaches, that sort of thing. One day, after our boys were grown, I realized I hadn't seen her in months. I saw her husband in the laundry room and asked him how she was doing. He said, "You know we're divorced, right? She lives in a different building now." I was shocked.

Back when we were both in the thick of parenting, I used to see her and her husband going for summer evening walks together, and I thought how connected and loving they seemed. Just goes to show you never know what's going on inside any marriage. Anyway, she and I met up again in the year-long weight loss group I joined. I was thrilled to see her in the room the first day. I always liked her wry, laid back demeanor. Last night, our children now grown, we shared stories of ourselves instead, and it was lovely to finally start knowing each other in a richer way. Unfortunately, it was freezing cold, so our bench sitting at the end of our walk didn't last too long. But we've pledged to make this a regular thing, so our friending will continue, I think.

Thanksgiving is a week away, and we have relatives flying in to spend the holiday with us, the usual suspects, two cousins whom I adore, and two nieces, whom I adore. They're flying in from Orlando, from Trinidad, and taking the bus from upstate, and everyone will be staying here. My other niece who now lives in the city with her boyfriend, announced she's sleeping over here the night before and the night of Thanksgiving, so she can be part of the revelry. And her best friend, who's been with us for Thanksgiving the past few years, will be traveling from Philly with her new boyfriend. My daughter's friend from college, who's feasted with us the past two years, will also be joining us again this year, though she'll probably stay over with my daughter at her apartment across the courtyard. My cousin from Boston is also coming, but she will stay with her sister in the Bronx. I heard a rumor she's bringing her new boyfriend, too.

On Thanksgiving Day, we count twenty-five or so guests for dinner, and I'm already getting quietly anxious about cleaning the house, spreading all the beds with fresh sheets, and creating the meal, even though most of the cooking is done by my husband. He insists he is up to it this year, despite his recent medical odyssey . My daughter will help with the very crucial basting of the turkey. Meanwhile I'll keep whisking cooking bowls and utensils into the dishwasher and running it on cycles so the kitchen doesn't get too overwhelming.

Even though I'm eager to see and spend time with everyone, this is usually the time of year when I wonder if maybe I need medication. It helps that my husband's mood is so mellow these days. It mellows me out, too. I hope when he goes back to work he'll be able to keep the intense stress of his workplace at bay. It's been the main silver lining of his recent illness, the chance to be away from there and reconnect with himself. But now he's eager to go back, to feel useful again. I swear he carried his whole department on his back most of the time. He is sorely missed.

On another note, can you believe Congress is trying to sneak another repeal of Obamacare past us by tacking it onto the tax bill? I suppose they think people will be too distracted by the holidays to notice or too confused by the details of the enrich-the-rich tax plan to puzzle it out. Time to start calling our representatives again. It never ends.

Well, this was a ramble. Thanks for reading here, sweet friends.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Another step


There is so much crazy in the news I don't have the heart to write much here. But this guy is doing okay. He's not mad at anyone or anything in that picture. He's just concentrating on calculating the tip on our lunch bill yesterday. That's his face in response, it's quite fierce, resting bitch face we call it, but when he smiles the sun breaks through. Rocks my world every time. Yesterday his doctor cleared him to return to work in December. And at this moment, on this freezing cold day, he is in the kitchen making pumpkin soup.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The resistance is working

Across the country, Democrats won down the line, rejecting the politics of exclusion and hate. Women in particular brought this election home. In Virginia, in monsoon rainstorms yesterday, they stood on line to cast their votes for Ralph Northam for governor, the gun safety and preservation of healthcare candidate. The turnout everywhere was higher than expected, with voters delivering a trouncing. And how good was it to see that guy on the right again. Let's keep this train rolling into 2018.







Sunday, November 5, 2017

Red paint

At the front entrance to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City sits a statue of Teddy Roosevelt astride a horse, with an African American man walking on one side of him and an Indigenous man on the other. The rider is in full military uniform while the men on either side of him are partially unclothed. A little more than a week ago, someone spattered red paint at the base of the statue, which has long been criticized as "a condescending expression of a power relation."

A group called Decolonize This Place released a fascinating statement in the aftermath. "Now the statue is bleeding," the group stated. "We did not make it bleed. It is bloody at its very foundation. This is not an act of vandalism. It is a work of public art and an act of applied art criticism. We have no intent to damage a mere statue. The true damage lies with patriarchy, white supremacy, and settler-colonialism embodied by the statue."


In other recent acts of protest, red paint was daubed on the hands of the Christopher Columbus statue in Central Park, and the word "racist" was scrawled across the base of the statue of a doctor, J. Marion Sims, who conducted gynecological experiments on enslaved women without anesthesia.

The mayor has appointed a panel of artists, historians, preservationists and activists to come up with a plan for monuments that represent a history of subjugation and hate. New Yorkers were also asked to share their opinions in an online survey. The paint of Teddy Roosevelt has since been removed, and the hands of Christopher Columbus have been washed clean. Most locals, when asked how they felt about the red paint protest, were not fans of the action. "I didn't even know what this statue was, to be honest," one man told a Gothamist reporter. "I've walked by it a dozen times. Now I can see why that's offensive for some people, but I think there are better ways to protest a statue than chucking red paint all over it, right?" 

So what do you think: Reprehensible act of vandalism or socially constructive art criticism? Something else entirely?

Out of respect for the journalists at Gothamist who reported on these events, and whose workplace was shuttered overnight by a billionaire owner disgruntled that they'd voted a week ago to unionize, I'd love to hear any and all thoughts on the red paint activism and/or the historical monuments issue.


Photos:
1: Scott Heins/ Gothamist
2: Scott Heins/ Gothamist
3: Christen Clifford/ Gothamist
4: Howard Smmons/ New York Daily News




Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The man who taught my husband how to be a good man


Happy birthday, Shadow. 
We miss you. 


Close to home

My friend just called to tell me that one of the people killed in the terror attack on the Hudson River bike path yesterday was a high school classmate of her son. This boy's father took his own life in his senior year of high school. It happened only a few months after my friend's husband had taken his life as well. She says that family helped her and her son heal. But now that boy's mother must endure another unspeakable loss. My friend is reeling at the news, identifying with the mother of that slain young man. She says she keeps finding herself standing on street corners, sobbing.

When my cousin in Virginia called me yesterday, and asked, "Do you see what's happening in your city?" I was oblivious. The TV was tuned to Fixer Upper, and I was all but ignoring it as I worked. "Turn on the news," she said, and when I did, I began urgently texting loved ones to make sure none of them had been on that path at three something that afternoon. Any one of them could have been. But my daughter was at work. My son was dropping off his rent check in Astoria. My niece was just leaving the hospital in Newark where she works. Everyone else I reached out to was safe.

I heard five of the eight people killed were Argentine tourists, in the city for a thirtieth high school reunion and out for an afternoon bike ride. Even with six degrees of separation, it seemed unlikely that I'd be connected to any of the remaining three who died. I was wrong. And now you who read here are connected, too.