Monday, May 28, 2012

Don't Waste It- Memorial Day 2014

In memory of all who gave their lives for their country. This is a republished blog from 2012. Sad to say --things have not changed much.

All week I have been thinking about what I would write about for Memorial Day. I’ve been told I come off preachy sometimes, but really I know most of the people who read my blog and I fully understand I would be preaching to the choir if I were preaching about this day. The one theme that kept coming back to me regarding Memorial Day, was the theme that came from the movie “Saving Private Ryan” when Tom Hanks was dying and he looked at Matt Daman and said, “Don’t waste it.”

Don’t waste it. Don’t waste your life and don’t squander your freedom. I take that to mean don’t be a lemming. Make a difference. Think about the world and not just your little corner of it. I strive to do this. I have taught myself to be more tolerant- though I don’t always succeed. We always want people to be just like us, think just like us- and yet the world is so big that could never be possible. And that freedom, we are so privileged to have in this great country, is often taken for granted and stomped on by many of us trying to make everyone fit into our groove.

Memorial Day is supposed to be about the troops killed in action. It’s not really supposed to be about thanking all our Veteran’s. But in my thinking, the best way to honor those who have died is to honor those who have lived and help them give their lives new meaning.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the plight of many veterans suffering from PTS and TBI and about their inability to find jobs that can accommodate their disabilities. Some of them can’t work at all. Many Iraq and Afghanistan veteran’s are homeless, drug and alcohol dependent and many more are suicidal. Many of them found maneuvering the VA so difficult they just gave up and receive no medical care at all.

I’m not sure which part of this people are not understanding. While political factions argue with each other over which is the best party, while they call each other names, spread rumors with zeal, and batter each other in advertisements, our veterans are dying.

In an article written late last year Paul Rieckoff , executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said, “The suicide rate is out of control – it’s epidemic proportions right now. There are very few programs that are effective, and there’s a serious lack of national awareness.”

A serious lack of National awareness. Still a million people will write about today and they will write about Veteran’s Day later, and people will wave their flags and argue about their right to choose, their right to pray, their right to eat fat, their right to grow pot, their right to raise their kids however they want, their right to be FREE.

Many of our veterans are not free. Some with visible scars and some without, they are shackled to their nightmares. They are buried with their friends who came home in coffins. They walk on tightrope; barely able to balance they hang on for life that is no longer dear.

Those of us that understand all this owe it to these men and women, the walking wounded, to wake the Nation up. We owe it to them to have intelligent conversations that are not politically biased, but about them alone. We owe it to them to stop blaming politicians for something WE can change if we unite in our message that our veteran’s needs must come before one more war, one more special interest, and one more barrel of oil, one more study of frog sex, one more dime spent on any frivolous bull shit thing.

After 11 years of constant war, almost every single person I know has known someone that either has been in the war or been deeply affected somehow. Everyone I talk to has had a son, daughter, sister, brother, nephew, cousin or friend serve in one of the two last wars.  

A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related. That is more than double the estimate of 21 percent who filed such claims after some other relatively recent wars, top government officials told The Associated Press.

I have not backed off my campaign to raise awareness. If I am preaching – so be it. I don’t know any other way to get the word out. I’m shooting from the hip like I always do. I’m hoping you will share this Memorial Day message with your friends and family. I’m hoping it will make its way to people who want to make things better for our veterans. 1.6 million veterans need our help.

Don’t waste it. If you don’t know the meaning of life- give your own life meaning. Leave this world a better place by repaying the greatest gift given to most of us and earned by so few. The gift of freedom.

Things can change. If you have even a smidgen of the bravery some of the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms have, you can help make a difference. Speak up for them, don’t just wave your flags and shout out America the Beautiful, or the Pledge of Allegiance. We owe them – don’t you think?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Metaphors and Other Nonsense

Last Saturday I made plans to meet Nick’s ex-girlfriend Meg, who was visiting from New York, in Sausalito. I almost begged off because I was too broke to go to lunch but she said she was happy just walking around Sausalito and that sounded great to me too.

I had facebooked Meg an article about the Sausalito Stairs and asked if that looked like a good walk to her. I instantly started writing this blog in my head using the stairs as a metaphor for life... for about 3 minutes before my knees started to hurt. I thought it must be psychosomatic.

Meg was staying in the city with Galina, who is Nick’s ex-wife. They became good friends while Nick was still seeing Meg, and continued their friendship beyond the split. Nick likes intelligent women and these two ladies are that and more; their friendship was a natural. I love them both.

I felt guilty going for any kind of a walk without Toshi on a Saturday so I leashed him up and brought him with me.

Both girls met me near the ferry landing, both girls were happy to see Toshi and of course, he was happy to see them too.

When I mentioned to Meg and Galina my knees hurt and I didn’t think I could do the stairs they were more than forgiving. They were running in the Bay to Breakers on Sunday and didn’t need the added knee strain either.

So we started walking through the throngs of people on Bridgeway. Galina was holding Toshi and my eyes were peeled for any other animals since Toshi isn’t always a sweetheart with his own kind. But as we skirted our way through tourists and sun worshipers Toshi seemed fine, in fact he was happy as hell.
Near the seal statue on the waterside of Bridgeway, we came upon a bride and groom having their pictures taken. The bride was a pretty, Asian girl in a long white gown and held her pale pink bouquet in her hand.

Toshi stopped to admire the beautiful bride and she gently and cautiously put her hand out to touch him.  Their camera crew started snapping pictures and suddenly Toshi was smiling, posing and trying to outshine the lovely bride. Her new husband had already taken a back seat.

We stayed long enough for Toshi to get his picture taken and continued down the street. Taking in the sights like the rest of the tourists and letting Toshi sniff here and there. As we came back towards the bride and groom their camera crew was packing up. Toshi decided once again to don their wedding party with his presence and very sweetly laid down near the bride and smiled his best ever Shiba Inu grin. The bride lowered herself to Toshi’s level and ever so gently pet his furry head. The photographers rushed to get their gear unpacked and held light reflectors next to Toshi while clicking their shutters. Fifteen years from now when the bride and groom’s kids are looking through their wedding album they will ask, ‘We had a dog?” and the mom and dad will reply, “No we had a wedding crasher.”
It crossed my mind for a second that this simple walk was the real metaphor for life. Seize the moment! Be spontaneous. Smile for pictures. Enjoy a nice walk. Keep good company. Be happy for newlyweds. Walk your dog. Smell everything. (Well, almost everything.) Enjoy every minute possible.

I was so full of myself when I was thinking that stairs were the metaphor for life because they are hard and they leave you out of breath, and maybe if they don’t kill you getting to the top might make you feel good about the accomplishment, but everything will hurt and it won’t really be fun. Stairs as a metaphor was almost depressing.

 It’s amazing what some fresh air on a sunny day in Sausalito will do for your outlook on life.

Still, I would like to do the stair walk someday. Not because of the difficulty factor but because the views from up high are breathtakingly beautiful.
Thanks for a great day girls!! And Toshi too!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

No Whining

When my son was here on Mother’s Day, I noticed him limping a little. I asked if he hurt his foot and he said no it was blisters from walking all over town in dress shoes the night before.  I told him I had moleskins still, from when he was in the Marine Corps and offered them up but he said no thanks. A couple hours later, still limping I offered them again. “No thanks. He said. “I think I got this expression from you but - I’m really glad I have feet to hurt.”

Actually that was a bastardization of what my stepdad used to tell me when I was whining about what ever I was whining about. “I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” 

Nick’s way of saying it made much more sense coming from him though- having witnessed more than one guy lose a foot or more in Iraq.

Most people- all but my few closest friends would say I am a glass is half-empty person. And most would say the same of my son. But I contend we are realist, he and I. The glass is unimportant in every sense. It’s what's in the glass or not in the glass that counts. And if you have no glass then there is no point to the conversation. And those are the kinds of conversations I have with my boy and I love that he gets me.

I am occasionally caustic. It’s usually only with someone who has whined incessantly about something incredibly trivial (and yes I’ll make that judgment) like their hairdresser canceled on them, or their favorite store is closing or someone got their Starbucks wrong. There are work complainers that just never stop. I have from time to time suffered from this disease. They only cure I know of for this is to quit or get fired- hopefully for the sake of all around this person- one or the other will happen because the negative energy is oppressive. I try to check myself on this.

I work with someone who appears to be perpetually happy or joyous may be the better word. At first I thought, oh that will end. Now I realize this is who she is. She just prefers to see the best in everyone. (Selfishly I am glad she sees the best in me.)  No matter how bad of mood I am in when I talk to this woman, I cheer up. She undermines my crappy mood every single time. I want to interview her; you know how they interview old people in the old folk’s home. “What is the secret to your happiness?” I would ask.  And she might say; “I turn around counter clockwise three times every morning and then clockwise three times every night and that is the secret.”  Or she might say. “I have seen such sadness in my life, that I refuse to spend one more minute there. I just refuse.” I think the latter may be closer to the truth. None of us get out of life unscathed.

Joy. Joyous.  It’s a spiritual thing. It’s not like opening Christmas presents happy, it’s a deeper more soulful happy. It alludes most of us. It’s an inner peace. It’s a quiet head. It’s a gift to be shared.

So the truth is, my son and I are not the glass is half empty people that many believe we are. We just have this way of saying what we think- actually stating the obvious most of the time, but somehow that comes off as negative and usually offends the offenders.

I suppose I could shut up. I suppose I could just swallow my words- but frankly I think I would choke to death if I had to do that.

I wake up happy everyday. I start my day off with this thought. Good, I’m alive. I reach across the bed, pet my dog, and say hello baby. I try to hang on to that grateful condition. I don’t always succeed.

Today I ran into someone who is almost never happy though their life by almost anyone’s standards is not too shabby. They complain of life and its injustice all the time. I know this person has had some difficulties recently, but I am having a hard time being sympathetic because I keep remembering the man who has no feet. The woman who has no breasts, the baby that won’t see her first birthday, the old man who has no years left.

I used to have a coffee cup that my employees gave me one Christmas. It said NO WHINING. Someone stole it off my desk at another job- of course.  My son bought me a refrigerator magnet that says the same. Whining is unbecoming on most human beings- yet we all do. I think I’ll make a rule for myself. I can whine once a week for 5 minutes straight and that is it. No more. 

I need to remember the man who has no feet- and the girl who sees the best in everyone because I think that is the recipe for joy.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day 2012

For now, I am a content mother. My son is 30 feet away, asleep on my sofa. He has a room here but he never quite makes it that far.

Last night I slept well knowing he was safe and sound. Well, safe anyway. I had crazy dreams though, about many of my fears, like holding a baby while up high and knowing I’m so afraid of heights I might drop him if I try to move. Giant dogs; Mastiffs and German Sheppard’s- twice their normal size chasing me down the street. Getting lost, feeling scared. Still, I slept better than most nights. My neurosis, my obsession with my son’s safety and well-being that started with conception and has increased exponentially ever since- temporarily abated.

Sometimes I think- if I could just stop worrying about him for five minutes life would be great- but I just found out that is not quite true.

I won a book last week called “Some Assembly Required- A Journal of My Son’s First Son” by Anne Lamott.  I have read all of Annie’s books and loved them all because I love her honesty and her quirky way of looking at the world. I was not planning to read this book though because I am not a grandmother and probably couldn’t relate. Since I won it and I was out of something to read … and on the recommendation of my friend Denise, I read it. Of course, I could relate to almost every word.

I worry sometimes if I will be a good grandmother. If Nick were smart, he would father a child now just to take the heat off himself. I could transfer all that neurosis to a fresh new face (like his grandmother did) and my son could breathe free air again. (not really) After reading Annie’s book, I can see how that happens. I could see myself in almost every page she wrote.

I know moms who are not neurotic. Mom’s that go about their lives and somehow- (and I have no idea how) let go and let God. I can’t do that. I don’t trust God to make the right decisions- I’ve seen Him get it wrong way too many times.

This Mother’s Day- I’m going to try to focus on the good stuff. I’m going to tell myself that PTSD, (his and my residual) is treatable if not curable and that eventually all will be right with the world. I’m going to remind myself that I raised a city kid who actually does know how to cross a busy intersection without getting hit by a car or the 38 Geary. He doesn’t stand too close to the BART tracks, or any of the nearby cliffs. His life has mirrored mine in many ways- and I’m still here- so I know I have passed some survival skills to him- and I guess the USMC taught him some tricks too.

Today- I will resist the urge to bang around the kitchen to wake him up so I can selfishly have a few more minutes of his time. Instead of taking this Mother’s Day to indulge my neurotic whims, I will stand down. I will relax. I will breathe. I will find my sense of humor and remake myself into a not crazy mama.  Then- perhaps when my son says “Happy Mother’s Day Mom” it will have more meaning- like the special day it should be and not just another day of crazy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Eugene's F Bomb

5th Grade Longfellow Elementary San Francisco
In my fifth grade class at Longfellow Elementary in San Francisco, a boy named Eugene sat behind me. I can’t remember Eugene’s last name but it was something like Smith or Brown.  Eugene had reddish-brown hair and brown eyes, some freckles and an unremarkable look about him. His unique distinction- and we  all have one- was that he would let the F-bomb fly about twenty times a day. In 1962, in 5th grade, that was unusual.

I was a Safety Patrol. I took my safety patrol job seriously. I would wear my white belt and hold back the pedestrians until it was safe to cross the street. I obeyed the rules and I enjoyed enforcing them. I remember taking care of that white belt as if it were a living thing. I was proud of my job.

Eugene annoyed me. In addition to his cussing, he picked his nose. Since I came from a family that smacked you if you picked your nose I made an effort to never look at him because I knew I would hit him.

As the school year neared the half-way mark, I found myself hating Eugene. He started to look rat-like to me. I’m pretty sure he hated me too. Mrs. Renstrom, I have no doubt, was sick of me telling on him as much as she was sick of him swearing and finally moved me to a different spot. How she handled him, I don’t remember.

Now though- some 50 years later I think I was a little too harsh on Eugene. The F-bomb is my favorite word. I use it when I am happy, mad and sometimes sad.  It’s descriptive, it’s definitive, and it makes me feel better. It’s a little mini stress reducer in an extremely stressful world. It’s just a little word- yet it carries enormous impact. I get it now- I really do.

I would like to officially, apologize to you Eugene.  You may have grown up to be a nose picking creep, or maybe you are in the FBI or CIA or a politician somewhere. Maybe you died in some war or from some drugs or maybe you are happily married now, with four kids and six grandkids, all running around dropping the F-bomb for you.  I just want you know I get it- and Mrs. Renstrom probably got it back then. She probably felt the same - being in charge of 30 plus 5th graders when the world was changing faster than she could learn about it- let alone teach us.

Now, I can say I see the need for rules, but I break many of them. I’m loathe to make others follow any rules, too many years of herding cats to want to do that anymore. Now- I just say fuck it- and move on.