Monday, November 17, 2008

Chatter withdrawal

For days, I've wanted to find a few minutes to write.

Nothing profound, of course, just words.

Hardly seems like I've lived without jotting down some thoughts and then expounding on them just to hear myself think.

Ego? Yeah, no doubt. I've always loved seeing my name in print at the top of an article I wrote. Guess that's what keeps writers writing.

But there's also the communication side of it. I've never been one to keep things to myself. Self-disclosing, I think the shrinks call it. A healthy willingness to share, I'd rather say.

The world according to the Smith family has been topsy-turvy since the last post.

Howard's mother is in the hospital facing major surgery this week. What will happen afterward depends on how the operation goes and what doctors give as a prognosis. She is frightened but determined to do what must be done. Howard and I are exhausted and worried for her, as we watch the ordeals she endures day after day without benefit of a positive outlook. Prayers from friends and family pour in, for which we are very grateful.

I watch all of this from the vantage point of one whose own mother died of breast cancer when she was 56 and I was 31. Seems forever since I had a mother of my own to worry about. We never went through the elder-care routines for her, so I'm a novice at caring for someone so ill.

And amid all the medical talk and test procedures, both Howard and I realize we are next in the grand scheme of things.

Death doesn't frighten me, since I believe passionately in the next phase of living ... although unknown, still comforting in its certainty. Suffering, growing old and infirm, losing my independence, relying on others for my every need .... this is what frightens me. I jokingly (perhaps) tell my daughters to park me in a nursing home, visit when they can and go on with their lives rather than suffer the disruption caring for someone causes. Then I laugh and warn them I might take a header into a bridge abutment at 70 miles an hour and save them all the trouble.

Jokes don't really make anything better. I am growing old in a hurry, it seems, since years now fly instead of merely pass as they did before I hit 50.

At 67, I realize my time will be here sooner rather than later. I don't dwell on it a lot, but it's really impossible to avoid coming face to face with the reality every time some new horror visits itself on my mother-in-law.

So ... the plan is to live every day to the fullest possible. Hug the grandchildren, stay close to friends and don't let a day go by without saying "I love you" to those whom I need to hear it. I may not be the world's best caregiver (far from it!) but I'm learning how to behave when it's my turn to accept the ministries of others. Not an easy lesson. Certainly nothing I ever contemplated too seriously.

Now, though, it's simply a reality.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The mountaintop

In 1964, when my then-husband and I went to Biloxi, Mississippi a couple times a year to visit his mother, I had my first taste of Jim Crow and the horror that was segregation. You need to know I was raised in an all-white town in south Jersey, where the African-American population was isolated on either side of the main streets and my schools were lily white. In college, I met people of all backgrounds and quickly realized that color didn't register with me as it did with some. I dated young men of color, had friends of all ethnic groups. So you can imagine what Biloxi, Mississippi did to my social conscience. Why, for God's sake, should a black man have to get off the sidewalk so I could pass? Why separate water fountains and rest rooms? Why, most of all, did everyone seem to take that hideous status quo as gospel and not challenge the basic errors of its way?

Then came Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not only did he speak for the legions of African-Americans who hungered for his message and who risked their lives to abolish the old ways, he spoke to me in a very personal way. I believed what he preached ... that the day would come when a person would be judged, not on the color of his skin, but on the content of his character.

Election Day, 2008 was the final push to the pinnacle of the mountain Dr. King envisioned. At 11 p.m., when most of the results were counted, it became apparent that one man, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, had reached the mountaintop and planted a symbolic victory flag there for not only those of his own ethnic heritage but for all of us who finally can believe the evils of segregation and racism have been set aside.

Am I naive enough to think racism died when Senator Barack Obama was elected as the 44th president of the US? Of course not. After all, his victory wasn't unanimous. Millions of voters who did not support him couldn't get past his race, so we know old prejudices won't vanish instantly. I am, however, optimistic enough to believe that, as his presidency progresses and our country's divisions and mistakes are healed and made irrelevant, all Americans will benefit from this election result.

I believe President-elect Barack Obama will be a great president. He inherits some of the most serious problems ever to face our nation, thanks to the incompetence of his predecessor. But I believe he will surround himself with the best and the brightest and those great minds will find practical and effective ways to turn us around.

I'm seriously proud to have watched Senator Obama way back in 2004 and spotted the potential for what happened yesterday. I felt an unusual sense of pride when I cast my vote for Senator Obama and I couldn't hold back the tears of gratitude I shed when the victory was sealed. We have come a very long way and now the real work of restoring our nation to its rightful place in the world will begin.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Spending hours in the past

When my stepfather died, I "inherited" a plain brown box filled with music ... old sheet music with ornate covers and strange-sounding titles. The box was sealed with tape and stored. It was then moved from Berlin to Mt. Laurel and then to Pemberton. Each time, I wondered what to do with the stuff. Sentimenality and the thought that someone might actually want this stuff, kept me from tossing the box, music and all, into the trash.

We cleaned out the garage a bit more on Sunday. Warm weather and the need to prepare for winter prompted the work, certainly not a desire to neaten up the place. And there, on a wire shelf above my head, was the brown box of music. Almost daring me, this time, to deal with it.

So, I took it down, sorted the pieces by year (from 1898 to 1945) and began cataloging them in a list on the computer. For what, I don't know. Old sheet music is a dime a dozen, I'm discovering, as I surf around sites that offer it. Still, I can't escape the feeling (and the hope) that I have some rare gem mixed in with the mundane. Dream on, huh?

This is my new project, I suppose. I'll send out some e-mails and see if any collectors or dealers bite. At least the brown box is out of the garage. Now it's in the office. Next step ... outta here!


Sunday, November 2, 2008

So many stories to tell

Wendy's son Brian called yesterday. We'd never met, although I knew Brian and his late brother from the pride in Wendy's voice when she spoke of them.

There were so many address books, names and lists of people Wendy knew, it wasn't possible for Brian and his family to contact everyone. There are, after all, still boxes and boxes of her papers and things to go through and not much leisure in which to do it. So, this young man who had lost his wonderful mother apologized to me for not calling to let me know she was ill. That's how she raised him.

We talked for a while ... me, the college buddy who had memories of his mother he couldn't begin to know. How could I explain those laugh-til-you-cry times we spent together? Wendy and I in Barrett House on the Trenton State College campus, staying overnight with Doris Perry, the house faculty member and college psychologist who had adopted us as the daughters she never had. Her apartment was so tiny there wasn't enough room to turn around. Her bedroom was a little part of the living room, set apart by a sliding plastic door. After a potpourri dinner, we three decided to bring a mattress from one of the empty rooms upstairs down to Doris' apartment to sleep on. Picture a 41-year-old woman and two co-eds, 18 and 19 respectively, lugging an unwieldy hunk of batting down a slightly curving staircase. Of course it got wedged in between the bannister and the wall. Of course we ended up sliding down the mattress from top to bottom, giggling uncontrollably. Of course we got very little sleep, but the memory of that night was relived again and again.

Wendy had an infectious laugh and marvelously caring nature. We had a momma-loves-you-best relationship when it came to Doris, whose approval we both sought constantly, but who loved us both enough to give us what we needed proportionately and always just at the right time.

Those were the days, my friends. Now both Doris and Wendy are gone. Makes one think long and hard about who might be next.