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Archive for March, 2009

Several Chester County Peace Movement members just finished a wonderful weekend experience:  Hosting a group of people doing a 55-day “Walk for a New Spring” (for peace) that came through West Chester last evening and this morning. I received an e-mail a few weeks ago from their organizer asking us to host them for an evening/night/morning and telling me about their themes: The abolition of nuclear weapons, the renunciation of war, and the conversion of our economy from war to peace. See today’s Daily Local News for a very nice article and photo (p. 3):  http://www.dailylocal.com/articles/2009/03/22/news/srv0000004956001.txt.

It’s hard to describe what some of us just experienced in the past 24 hours – the sharing of ideas and love and, yes,  peace, with this group on their pilgrimage – so I’ll just recount what happened, not feeling I can describe this weekend’s experience adequately.

The 20 (or so) walkers, starting out in Leverett, MA, on Feb. 13, and to conclude in Washington, DC, April 8, involved the monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order and the New England Peace Pagoda, as well as a group of young people (ages 14 and up) in this, their eighth annual walk. From western Massachusetts, they have traveled through southern New England, New York, New Jersey, then Pennsylvania (leaving for Coatesville this morning, then Gap and Lancaster for overnights in all these places), then through Maryland to DC. Their goal is to arrive in DC as the cherry blossoms come into bloom, a most beautfiul and “peaceful” time in DC, a symbol of rebirth and the preciousness of life. They have requested an audience with President Obama but have not heard back yet.
 
Along their way, the walkers reflect with each community on the legacies and impact of the past, raise the issues of the day – especially economic conversion to peace – and share ways of making real the energy of hope and change that has been created by the arrival of a positive change in American leadership. As they say, “We are all an essential part of that leadership.”  They invited others to join them on the walk when possible, Additionally, part of their “program” is to invite mayors of cities and towns through which they travel to make a statement for peace – which two of our members will take to our own West Chester mayor this week.

When I put out the “call” for community help with feeding and hosting these peace pilgrims, the response was truly wonderful (as I would expect). A dear Friend at Birmingham Friends Meeting immediately lined up not only a great dinner prepared and hosted by the local vegan CARE group at West Chester Friends Meeting last night, but also found host homes for all the peace travelers. They often sleep in their sleeping bags on the floors of religious or civic organizations – so sleeping in real beds was a special treat for them – they were all saying this morning, “That felt so good!”

Before their dinner and night of rest, however, they joined us for a special war anniversary (sixth) vigil at the courthouse yesterday. They came walking into West Chester, up Market Street, in their colorful flowing robes and clothes, filling our courthouse corner with color, music (drums and chants) and – yes – an amazing feeling of peace. We kept saying amongst ourselves yesterday, “This is what it’s all about.” They brought a sense of our belonging to a larger world, of not just being our somewhat isolated peace group here in Chester County, but of being connected to a much larger effort – an unstoppable effort – in the constant struggle for world peace. They brought a strong sense of humanity, of brother- and sisterhood, a connectedness that we may not always feel fully in our weekly peace vigils – it was a new sense of connectedness and was, as they told us, their gift to us, a great gift.

After the vigil, the dinner, and the night’s rest, we all gathered over at the Old Copeland School Building In East Bradford Township at 7:00 this morning for a truly sumptuous breakfast prepared by our best “peace chefs” – when I arrived at 7:00, a whole crew had already readied the breakfast, set the table, arranged the breakfast room, and were just waiting with open arms for our guests. Our “peace chefs” not only prepared the best breakfast you can imagine, but they also had sandwich-and-fruit lunches for them to carry with them on their walk to Coatesville.

As we gathered to share our farewells, I must admit to quite a few tears flowing. I practically begged them to return next year (though their route often varies) – we told them we would welcome them back every year if they will come!  I walked with them to Route 322, while a couple of others walked on for a longer distance, and three more of our group went on as far as Downingtown with them. I got to carry the large peace banner out in front of the pilgrims for the duration of my walk, and Anne Moore then took the banner from there.  As Anne and I agreed later, walking “out in front” alone while holding the banner was a very moving experience. We got a short taste of what this entire walk is all about, of how it feels to be part of the pilgrimage.

I can’t describe adequately just how much these people and their cause moved us – you had to be there. I just wanted to record the event. We are all hoping our Peace Walkers come this way again next year – we’ll be waiting with open arms. The best summary is that we all felt that we’re happy that there are people like this in our world, that people care enough to do extraordinary things for peace. We all particularly appreciated the young people walking with them. 

The Peace Walkers renewed our hope. That was their gift to us.

Namaste.

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Up until age 8, I was a crooked-eyed, crooked-toothed, girl who couldn’t color in the lines and who almost murdered a bowl full of tadpoles by attempting to blow “air” to them.

Now, I wasn’t unhappy with all this, but I had not yet discovered anything I could really do, any particular attribute that was mine. Of course, at those early ages, who cares? I was a happy little girl. I loved playing and being with my grandparents and church and all that. However, I didn’t yet like school.

But at age 8, something nice happened that stuck with me for the rest of my life – I discovered a “talent” uniquely mine: I could learn, and I loved learning more than any other activity I had ever been involved in.

Sometime around age 8, we moved to a house on Winfield Road just outside the small town of St. Albans, West Virginia. When I think about “where I grew up,” I think of that house and of the one we moved to later in the town. That house on Winfield Road was a magical place to me and still is. Although a visit back there as an adult revealed to me that it was (as childhood places usually are), much smaller than I remembered it, it is still huge in my memory.

The house sat on a slope, so on the left side (facing it), there was a grassy “hill” going down to the back yard. On that hill was a huge (in my memory) sycamore tree, from which my father hung a swing.  I remember the hours and hours it seemed that I spent in that swing – which, swinging out over a downward slope, seemed to take me up into the very sky and clouds – that’s how it felt, like I was flying. On the right side of the house was a concrete driveway sloping downward into our small, one-car (as they were in the 50s) basement garage.

We had on the first floor of that house a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, the only bathroom (as they were back in the 50s), and a room off the kitchen that became a third bedroom. It also had a basement with the laundry, the garage, a space that later became my brother’s bedroom, and another large storage area that held many boxes of old clothes and such that often became the center of make-believe hours, digging into those boxes and dressing up in whatever clothes we could find for “pretend” and old curtains that could make a little girl a fairy or a princess. The yard was flat in the back and became partially my father’s vegetable garden and partially a world of cowboys-and-Indians and tag and croquet and badminton and all other kinds of fun things to do. Behind our house was “Marlaing Addition,” blocks of small frame houses where our friends and strangers lived, streets where we could ride our bikes for endless hours and get to our friends’ houses. A couple of “little” stores we could run to for basic provisions. The Marlaing Gospel Tabernacle  where I walked to Sunday School and church (and another Church of Christ I didn’t go to, but where our next-door  neighbor was pastor).

Across the very busy Winfield Road (high traffic, large trucks, etc.) were “hills” rising upward with some streets that seemed like foreign lands, woods galore to play amongst, my (later) piano teacher’s house – that seemed like a huge stone mansion to me at the time, another foreign world.

So moving to Winfield road was wonderful and opened up a fairy-land of new friends, make-believe, exploration. But moving to Winfield Road also meant a new school: Tackett Creek Elementary School, a place idealized in my memory as the “ideal” of all elementary schools.

I started third grade at Tackett that year, and I loved it there. Tackett was an extremely old brick school building, something out of a history book. My grandfather, who was born in 1875, remembers seeing that building when he was a boy – that’s how old the building was. It had its own old-building smell and dust and peeling and cracked paint and blurry old-glass windows, its old-fashioned look. Third grade was the only year I was actually in that building – afterwards, for 4th-6th grades, I was in white frame “portables’ outside the building, but I loved that old building and always wished I could stay in it through elementary school. They kept the “big building’ for the smaller children. I loved third grade in Mrs. Casto’s class upstairs in that old building. Everything reeked of age and tradition and history. I felt, without realizing it in just this way, that I was “living” in a historical place. Years later, it was torn down – and a big regret I have is that I have no photos of it to remember it by, only my mind’s pictures. I’ve searched and searched on t he web but can find no record of that building or even of just the school generally – and the school was not rebuilt. It just vanished into history.

I loved the outside of that old school, too, the playground bordered by Tackett Creek in back. I recall one golden autumn day when my friend, Bonnie, and I picked golden rods and went  around touching other kids’ heads with the flowers and declaring them “fairies.”  That was my life then – a gauzy, golden, haloed, beautiful time.

That year was extremely important to me:  I discovered that I could actually do something, that I had one talent, the only talent I’ve ever had in my life – I could remember things, I could learn – and I loved every minute of it. I started doing well in school. It didn’t matter any more that my coloring was “messy” as the second-grade girls had accused me or that I had almost (allegedly) killed the tadpoles. I got positive reinforcement for the first time I can remember in school, and that’s all I needed to take off – from then on, I loved learning, I loved books, I loved school,, and I loved academic competition (which became more keen to me the next year). My life became, and has remained, tuned to the academic year. My year starts, to this day, in September, and “ends” in June. Summer’s a “break” from real life for me.

As the years came, I realized I could not sing, I was not talented at music (piano, the only music I studied), I was not “pretty” with my crooked eye and tooth and ever-present glasses (“being pretty” was awfully important for us girls growing up in that place at that time). I was not athletic (just liked to play and run and bike like all  the other kids), but with no sports talent that I ever knew of. But I could learn and loved every minute of it. I immediately wanted, quite simply, to know everything. I mean everything. I didn’t have to have straight eyes or straight teeth or to be “pretty” to learn – I’d found my lifetime niche.

At some point around this time, my parents started buying grocery-store-dollar(or so)-a-volume Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias – I started “holing up” in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet with the door closed and locked for quiet and privacy, reading every entry I could. I just wanted to know everything.

That’s how I found out about “the facts of life” at age 8 – reading those encyclopedias. I’ll never forget going to Mom and telling her,” I know now where babies come from, how they’re born – but I don’t understand one thing, Mom: How is the egg fertilized? The encyclopedia doesn’t explain that.” To this day, one of the most wonderful things about my mother is that she never lied to me – she always answered such questions, even sensitive ones, forthrightly and honestly:  She completely described how a woman’s egg is fertilized.  And I responded with whatever the 50s version of “OH, YUCK! I’LL NEVER DO THAT!”  is (and went on to reading about other subjects, like far-away lands and exotic religions and history and economics and politics and philosophy and literature and everything else)……That was my introduction to the “birds and the bees,” it was all very yucky; but I then knew, matter of factly, the “facts of life.” On to the next subject….

Back then, most girls had no way of finding out if they had athletic talent in those days, particularly if we were not the “country club” set who had access to the only possible girls’ sports, tennis and swimming. So, if I had athletic talent, I never had the opportunity to discover it. Thank heaven for the federal equal opportunity legislation, Title IX, later, which started removing gender barriers in sports. But that legislation was too late for me.

At some point, I started taking piano lessons from the teacher across the road and “up the hill” in a beautiful, mysterious, “castle-like” (in my young mind) house.  My teacher was a wonderful, kind, and loving elderly woman with a quiet,  retired, disabled (I think)  husband/physician who sat in the shadows holding his cane (rather spookily, I thought, reminding me of a vampire in the shadows) quietly while she taught her students. My grandmother trold me of some old gossip involving the Dr. and and his good wife, so they took on even more mysterious and “interesting” personas to me. Even though I didn’t particularly like playing piano (or practicing), I loved going to her house and stuck with lessons for several years because I liked going there more than because I liked piano.  That weekly trudge up “the Hill” and that quiet hour in that darkened room with only the  piano light and the elderly “ghost” sitting in the corner never saying a word but listening became a highlight of my life. I loved it there.

But I loved even more going back  behind their house after the lesson, in the twilight of the evening, and sitting on a stump, looking back pensively into the mysterious woods that seemed to go on infinitely and dreaming of far-away places that the piano music often came from (places like Finland and Germany and Russia and England) and dreaming of a future in a huge and wonderful world. In junior high school I started reading Robert Frost’s poetry and memorized this one, which I would sit on that stump and recite to myself repeatedly and which I continue to this day to repeat to myself as a kind of life theme as the years go by:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I wondered and wondered at that time what would be my roads taken and not taken. Today I realize that we only know the roads we take, never the roads we don’t take.

I also learned to ride a bike my eighth year.  Fantastic. What a sense of unbridled freedom that brought! Today, learning to ride a bike brings back a few very painful memories. Like, when I was first learning in the basement, didn’t know  how to use the brakes, went right into the basement wall very forcefully, got hurt pretty badly, and remember being carried upstairs by my father and everyone huddling around me to make sure I was all right.  Bruised – badly. I’ll put it this way: It was very painful to walk for a couple of days…And the day I let some neighborhood kids “challenge” me to ride down the grassy slope under the sycamore tree, lost control of the bike, went hurtling over the handlebars, ending up in the back yard with a mouth full of grass and dirt, skinned knuckles and knees, and very hurt pride.  And the total fear I had of riding my bike down the driveway on the other side of the house – I’m not sure I ever really did that, it was so scary. And the fact I never really mastered riding “with no hands,” though I was good with one hand. I just never tried the no-hands approach.

But, otherwise riding that old 26″ bike (a very old one my mother had when she was a girl and that I rode through high school, the only bike I ever had as a kid – an old bike that I think had even been a cast-off when Mom got it) was the biggest thrill and was my “freedom” vehicle. I rode and rode for hours all over Marlaing Addition – around all  the blocks continuously, over and over, seeing people I knew and never knew. I rode over to “Chemical City,” a place next to our community – a real “foreign” land a few blocks away. That bike took me to “faraway places” (at least within a couple of miles!) every day, and the feeling of the air through my hair and on my face was exhilarating, absolutely thrilling. It was my first sense of total freedom, and freedom can become a strong, inner, all-consuming desire once you taste it.

My best friends on Winfield Road were Wilma next door and Wanda on the street behind us. Wilma and I later loved reading romantic novels and  watching old black-and-white romantic movies on TV and sitting out on a blanket under the trees in her front yard and fantasizing about us being the heroines in those books and movies. Wilma represents my “romantic side” as a young girl.

Wanda, on the other hand, was so very athletic, and I was so totally jealous of that  – she could throw balls like boys, she could roller skate (I never could do anything requiring balance except ride a bike), and she was just so good at sports. She could do things just like boys, things I so wished I could do – we didn’t talk about romantic movies  and books and boys and future imagined loves – she simply did things like boys did and did them so well. (Wanda and I still carry on a Christmas-card correspondence every year – and  she lives just a block or so away from her old house and runs a beauty shop there in our old neighborhood, with her mom still with her, her father deceased.)

Another good friend in the neighborhood was Terry. Three of us girls were the same age, in the same grade at Tackett Creek Elementary School – Wanda, Terry, and I. I lost track of Terry over the years because they (and we) moved at some point. But Terry, aside from being so incredibly sweet (as was her mother and the rest of her family, as I recall) stands out to me for another reason: During our elementary school years, her family converted to the Jehovah’s Witness faith. We had some other Jehovah’s Witnesses as neighbors, and all I recall about them was that they seemed to be constantly trying to convert others, going door to door – which annoyed a lot of folks (I heard that even then). But that was OK – people just sort of put up with their perpetual evangelizing, no big deal. But something else happened with Terry.

In one of my elementary school years (4th or 5th grade), apparently Terry’s parents must have told the school that Terry could not do the morning Pledge of Allegiance because of her faith. She also could not celebrate religious holidays like Christmas or even birthdays. So, whenever we did the Pledge or celebrated holidays or birthdays, Terry had to stay off to herself, which cast her aside as “different.” Already feeling strongly for those who are “different” (because of my own “differences” – the eye and, to a lesser extent, my tooth, which I’d learned to hide under my upper lip, but I couldn’t hide that humiliating eye), I remember feeling so very, very sorry for Terry. It hurt. Here was my friend being “cast out.” At the same time, I admired her for the courage she must have had to exercise in being “different.” These things make a very big impact on kids.

About 15 years later, when I was in law school and studying the Constitutional principle of Separation of Church and State, Terry was the unwitting guide in my developing philosophy – one that advocates total separation of church and state. Maybe I’ll write an essay about that some time, but not now. (It’s too involved for now.) Suffice it to say that I developed a belief, centered on my old friend, Terry, that religion and the state (including public education) should never mix, that people can choose their religions and have every right to do so – that’s a private matter – but that religion has no place in the public-supported sphere. I guess Terry was my first lesson about “diversity” and the pressure of the “group.” I felt her isolation as if it were my own, empathizing with her (without ever really knowing what she felt because we never discussed it). 

If we all look back and delve into our memories, we can probably find the underpinnings for our adult beliefs in what might have seemed like “little things” at the time. But, honestly, Terry’s situation did not seem like a “little thing” to me even then.

At some point during age 8, I had my second surgery (eye at 6) – removal of my tonsils and adenoids. Unlike some kids who have chronic tonsilitis and need their tonsils removed, my surgery was primarily to deal with my adenoids because I couldn’t breathe through my nose much of the time – another rather “unattractive” aspect of my physically awkward youth. Breathing  through my mouth was a problem at night when I was asleep, but also, to some extent, at all times. So out came the tonsils and adenoids!! I’ve never missed them.

I expect that I will update this post (as I will others) because other memories will come back.  As an aside, I heartily recommend blogging as a way to conjure up old memories. It’s amazing what memories come back as one writes – this blog becomes a work in progress at all times. So what I post today will probably be updated at future times.  It’s an organic process.  And it’s so much fun!! Every time I reread a blog, I correct, add, elaborate.

What I started out writing this Saturday morning has become much more – the memories just start creeping back into consciousness.  It’s a most enjoyable journey.  I find myself jotting down notes on the ever-present piece of paper in my pocket – things that I don’t want to forget to add. It’s so much fun!!!! (Plus, when I reread posts, I find typos and errors – so I’m constantly proofreading what I write and correcting all kinds of things, so these blog entries are rarely, if ever, final.)

These blogs will probably grow longer and longer – and therefore requiring more and more time (that I don’t always have) – as I progress through my ages because, of course, I start remembering more.  Some ages might be indistinct in memory (as, some  of those teen and young adulthood years), so I may have to group them. But the memories will be greater in number and intensity, so the blogs will get longer.  That’s why I’ve put this off so long – I will have to find time to continue, and longer times may pass between entries as it gets harder to find time. Luckily, I found another “talent” in my life (after age 8, though) – writing. I write as quickly and as glibly as I think. For a lot of folks, that’s hard, and I totally understand that – but it’s always been easy and free-flowing for me. I also write openly and don’t care too much about whether I look foolish or negative in any way. I just don’t care about that. That’s something I appreciate and am thankful for. I can’t roller skate or ice skate or ski (though I totally wish I could), I was never good at “tumbling,” and I can’t sing/dance/play music well. But I can learn, and I can write.  For that, I’m so very, very thankful!

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I chose to write a blog instead of an autobiography (book form) primarily because I cannot, in all honesty, be totally honest in my writing; and I see an autobiography as necessarily calling for the highest degree of honesty. That’s also why I have chosen a rather episodic, year-by-year format, sprinkled with spontaneous comments, essays, stories as they come to mind. I went back and labeled all the blogs I’d posted with categories:  Bio, essay, comment,  (shorter essay), story, mechanics (about blogging), etc.  Other categories may develop over time.

I am not writing much about living people I know – a perhaps glaring omission. If I write about someone, (1) it will be positive, (2) it might hide his/her identity, and (3) I will screen my writing scrupulously so nothing negative or even potentially negative (or embarrassing) will be construed. Negativity is simply not the point of this.

When I first started this process, I wrote something about someone for which I immediately received strident criticism.  The item I wrote was not negative about that person – it was about an incident  that happened to a very innocent person but apparently was a source of embarrassment. I would not have written about it had I thought it was in any way confidential. When an anonymous and very angry objection was sent to me, I immediately omitted the reference.  Fine.  I learned my lesson. I’m learning, day-to-day, the many considerations that go into blogging.

Along this line, I also let many people know that I was writing this blog because I don’t want someone to discover it accidentally and to feel I was hiding something. I am a totally open book and always have been.

The result of all these considerations will be that some very important people in my life will appear as mere shadows, sort of paper-doll cutouts with little “personality” or differentiation from others.  The blog will also appear to be more “me-centered” and one-dimensional than I would have liked. Our lives are very much entangled with those of other people, but this blog will not always reflect that entanglement. However, all that being said, in the end, perhaps that’s best.  I am writing this blog as a “memory” log for my son, and he knows a lot about the personalities in our lives, anyway – so he need not read what I must omit. He’s already aware and has his own observations about people and events. So be it. As we say these days, “it is what it is.”

Interestingly, an immediate critic of my writing this blog accused me of just writing to leave a positive record about myself.  Hmmm…….  I’m not a politician – so my motive is certainly not to leave only a positive memory. My son knows all my own shortcomings and faults, too, so I can’t really hide much. Additionally, while I am writing nothing negative about anyone else I know, I will channel all my harshest criticism toward myself – as I have been too prone to do all my life.  If anything, I am my own worst critic (as are many of us).  So, no, that’s not the point. My only response to that criticism was, “Well, I’m writing this for my son – and it will say what I want to say to him, whatever that may be.”

So, if anyone reading my stories or comments notices that meaningful people are ambiguous, not fully “developed” (in a story-writer’s sense), that’s why.  There are many things I could say but won’t.  Everything I might write about these people would be positive, anyway – rarely, if ever, even arguably negative. However, “positive” is in the eyes of the beholder (me here), so I will try ardently to say nothing much at all about those people. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist, aren’t important, aren’t cared about – I just won’t risk any possible negative or embarrassing interpretations of anything.

That’s not the point.

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Make new friends, but keep the old.

The new ones are silver…but the old ones are gold.

We all have them – the beloved, but geographically distant,  friends who come in and out of our lives like refreshing showers of rain or bursts of golden sunlight.

I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with a “golden” friend, Jim,  yesterday, a former co-worker who moved to a distant state some years ago. It is one of life’s great pleasures to spend a few hours with one of those friends who, when you get together, it just feels like time stood still; it’s always the same comfortable, “peaceful, easy feeling.”

We talked a lot about work, about politics, about “the kids” (mine almost 21, his 14 and 10) – about our hopes and dreams and ideas. He gave me a great tip about our Progressive Business Network here in Chester County – how to communicate on the Internet – we exchanged “parenting” experiences and ideas. He bought a book to give my son (Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea), I suggested a book to enlighten his life (Tracey Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains – we had dinner in the Chester County Book Store restaurant, my favorite place for meeting friends). Many laughs, a few somber reminiscences, catch-ups in all areas, a golden time to be treasured.

It’s so sweet.

Then the friend and I recede into the darkness, he with a plane to catch this morning, I returning to my home – our lives to return to. A little “bitter”  to say good-bye when you don’t know when, or even if, you’ll ever see that friend again. Such is life, such are our lives.

I’ve gotten used to this over the years – such partings used to fill me with much more sadness. I don’t feel that sadness any more, which I guess is part of maturation. It’s nice to see our friends/family when we see them, but we know it’s only for a brief, golden moment when miles separate us from so many we hold dear.

But we continue on with thanks that we have these bitter-sweet times…and look forward to more of them as life goes by. This morning I celebrate this friend and, as Quakers say, “Hold him in the light.”

Make new friends, but keep the old.

The new ones are silver…but the old ones are gold.

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Some day, long after I’m gone, the historians will dissect, mix up, roll around, massage, and figure out the year/s (?) of our “Great Recession” or “Great Depression, The Sequel,” or whatever this economic crisis we are going through in 2008-09 is called.  There will be tons of comments all over the Internet, a communications vehicle we didn’t have back during “the Great Depression” of yesteryear.  So my own comment here will be lost among others – it will be just the voice of a common, ordinary person with no power, no significant voice, no real clout.  However, we “commoners” are the ones who should be recording our reactions and thoughts for posterity….so, of course, I am doing so.

This morning I am particularly irked – no, enraged – at the hypocritical rants of the right – sorry, the “Republican right.”  The gall of some people.

The economic mess we find ourselves in is the culmination of Republican policies, force-fed on the American public (well, no, too many of the American public voted for these scoundrels – so force-fed on people like myself who never supported this nonsense) over the past decades, notably starting with Reagan, then carried through with two Bushes, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Rush Limbaugh – that whole gang of “let-’em-eat-cake, soak-the-poor, feed-the-rich, slander-and-blame-the-minorities-and-women” crowd.

Yet I get up to hear the “Morning Joe” rants (I know, sometime in the future you’ll wonder what I’m talking about here) on TV – they actually used the phrase, “the Washington of George Bush and Barack Obama.” The right is beginning a string of spin that clumps President Obama in with the people who brought us this mess. He’s been in office less than two months – and I can see the “spin” now – clump him in with the people who brought us here.

Well, I can only hope that the non-left people who voted Barack Hussein Obama into the White House will remain knowledgeable enough not to fall for  this gimmick. The same people pushing these nutty ideas are the ones right now being paid to create a revisionist history meant to wash George Bush of all his many sins – to make him look good, to wash away the crimes he’s committed toward not just this country but the world. It’s enough to make you want to scream every day – writing this helps “get it out,” but it’s nauseating, I must say.

I don’t imply in any way  here that the Democrats are blameless – too many of the “blue dogs” as they call the conservative Democrats (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) are in league with the right. That’s why I can’t be a Democrat and probably will remain an Independent forever because, every time I want to be a Democrat, they betray me again. (And, no, I don’t just demonstrate against Republican wars and policies – I demonstrated against Lyndon Johnson’s war, too, folks.)

However, Democrats still have, at their base, strong values for the “little guy,” such populist values being imitated occasionally only as a calculated and diabolical ploy by Republicans that they pull out to win elections, then throw overboard every time. (Someone actually recently noted that, although Republicans pull  out the “values” wedge issues – gays, guns, God, abortion, all that – constantly during election campaigns, they rarely actually do anything about those issues once in office. They are just  sham issues for them to ignite the public.)

Anyway, the bottom line is this:  Today’s news is bonuses paid by AIG to executives, with a populist revolt that could well undermine President Obama’s desperate attempts to put our economy on course, his attempts to save this country. And the Republicans are, as usual, screaming the loudest (that’s the only talent they have – screaming). Yet the bonuses paid highly highly compensated executives (without regulation) is at the heart of the entire Repbublican philosophy. This is the world they have been promoting for decades  – yet now they come out screaming against their own creation. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr……………………….

Will the American public fall for this hypocrisy?  Will they be so stupid as to buy this bridge in Brooklyn from the Republicans who brought us to where we are now – on the edge of disaster?  Stay tuned……..only history will tell.

Let me now take a dose of mindfulness. I really need  that this morning to wade through the muck.

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(Since I first posted this essay, a poll for Sleep in America shows that about 30% of Americans are losing sleep at night over the economy, lying awake  worrying, so this post was timely.)

I woke up to great news this morning – an  e-mail from a dear friend who’s been looking for a job for over a year and finally found a dream of a job! It was a long, hard slog since my friend’s lay-off – there were times all her friends were deeply worried, I must admit.  Deeply worried. But she did it! And she’s in a much better place than she was a year ago – she’s now going to be paid well to use her skills, and her skills will be appreciated.  Hallelujah!

The thing that I noticed the most about my friend was her never-ceasing upbeat mood the entire time of this ordeal. She never lost her faith that something would work out…eventually.  She had no other financial support, was (like many of us) facing age discrimination, big-time – but she kept up such a great attitude and such great optimism. I kept marveling, “Could I do that?” With strong reservations about whether I really could be that courageous. My friend was a model of how we all must approach “these times.”

Before I got to my computer and read my friend’s happy news, I was lying in bed for a few hours thinking, “Sometime I must write on my blog about mindfulness and all that.” My friend’s news pretty much clinched that theme and this blog topic.

I am a worrier. I can worry about everything – endlessly. I worry about my finances, my job, my friends, my family, my pets, all the people I  know and don’t know, the state of the world, wars, poverty, and everything else you can imagine, pretty much all the time (if I let myself), and not in that order by any means.

But I also try very, very hard to focus on mindfulness. That sounds sort of new-agey and what some people would derogate as psycho-babbly – but it’s the best term I can use.

I also tend to wake up very early in the morning. I may be asleep anywhere between 9 and 11 at night – but I’m sure to awaken at 2 or 3 a.m. or (if I’m lucky) after. And I don’t get up at 2 or 3 – I  just lie there. I love how the bed feels, the coziness of the covers, and I have no desire to get up till I have to – which is usually when Miss Tilly (my aged Springer) starts “rattling her cage” (the baby gate in her bathroom/bedroom door) telling me she must get up – and she’s like clockwork, rising between 4 and 4:30 (or 5 or 5:30 now with daylight savings). So I don’t  get up till  Miss Tilly won’t let me lie there any more.

And I lie there and think and think and think. Now, that can be prime worry time. If I let it. It can be the time when I let my stomach churn over worries, whatever the worry of the day is. Often, it’s the job; another time it might be my son, who’s far away; another time it’s family stuff; another time it’s how to make financial ends meet….there’s always a whole host of worries to lie awake and churn over.

Well, that’s the kind of thing that can make you sick, my friends, very sick. And I know that, when my stomach is churning, it’s not doing my heart and the rest of my body any good. So I practice my own kind of mindfulness. Since I’m writing this blog for my son, I hope this will help him someday – maybe not when he’s young (we tend  not to take advice then), but when he’s older, maybe. Louis, this is what’s getting me through, what allows me to make it through every day – and it takes work and concentration to do this.

I do these things (and nothing works 100% of the time, it’s a constant struggle for me):

(1) Compartmentalize worries – put them in a box and keep  them there. Yes, I must think about finances and the job, for example – but only when I must. So I try not to think about the job till I’m actually doing it – otherwise, it has to stay in its box. Otherwise, it would eat me alive. I try not to think about finances till I’m writing checks or actually doing  financial planning – otherwise, it has to stay in its box. I try not to worry about loved ones and friends till I’m communicating with them – otherwise, worries about them have to stay in their box,  or they, too, will eat me up, devour me, and spit me out.

(2) I try to keep thinking positive thoughts – that’s what I think really kept my friend going through this difficult past year. I noticed she never once abandoned her beloved “hobbies,” her interests. She never turned down a lunch or dinner with her friends, even though I’m sure money was extremely tight. She always met us and laughed and talked and had a really good time. She always said, repeatedly, something was going to break…something good was coming, she just knew it. She kept up those positives – so I try, when the negatives pound my brain, to drown them out with the positives, and my friend is my role model here, forever. It works!

(3) Philadelphia psychologist Dr. Dan Gottlieb on “Voices in the Family” (Mondays at noon on NPR – I go out in my car at lunchtime just to hear his show) – talks about mindfulness and avoiding anxiety often and provides a lot of coping mechanisms. I often remind myself of things he says – and he knows: He was rendered quadri- (or  para?)-plegic years ago, confined to a wheelchair (auto accident, I think), had to cope with hopelessness and suicidal thoughts for a long time – but has truly made lemonade out of lemons. He’s been there, folks. Anyway, Dr. Dan reminds us constantly:  DON’T WORRY ABOUT WHAT HASN’T HAPPENED.  We used to have yesterday (but it’s gone), we don’t have tomorrow at all (it might never come), and all we have is NOW. I constantly tell myself to live in this minute – don’t worry about what hasn’t happened and may never happen at all. Although it sounds morbid to tell yourself “I could be dead later today – even in a few minutes,” it’s comforting in that it helps me  focus on NOW. I might get laid off tomorrow – but it hasn’t happened yet. (I might not even live that long.) I might go bankrupt because I can’t pay my bills – but it hasn’t happened yet. My beloved family members will each at some point get sick/have accidents/die (all of us will) – but until that happens, why worry about it? Worrying will only bring on my own sickness and demise!

(4) Get the negatives out of your head. In the past few days, I had some negative communications with a couple of people who wore me out with naysaying and negativity – not real attempts at positive communication, but really negative. Downers. Bummers. Yuck. I finally had to end that. It could go on and on and “take me down.” We can’t allow that kind of thing to consume us. It will eat us alive. Wise people often say – just don’t be around the naysayers, the people who make you feel bad. I heed that – I don’t  have time in my life for that. Oh, we all have friends (and family) who are sad or upset or whatever – I’m not  saying you abandon your friends in their time of need. Never! But don’t let people who, you know, will take you “down” to misery do that to you! Choose what you can endure from human relationships – and cast off (at least psychologically) those who drag you down.

I have said, from an early age, that heaven, for me, would be a place where I could live as a hermit and read every book I’ve ever wanted to read – and just read forever – and walk in the woods whenever I like. That’s all heaven is to me – books and woods. That’s it. Oh, maybe a dog or two, too. (Cats are OK, too; but I’m really a “dog person.”) So that’s my heaven – books and woods and dogs and cats.

Not long ago, I decided to create my own heaven on earth – so I focus on those things – books and woods and dogs (and one cat). I’m like most people who “never have time” to read a book – well, I’ve started taking time. We aren’t sure about heaven, whether it even exists – so this might be our only chance to create our own heaven.

I turn the TV off (after all, the campaign’s over, and we did elect the best possible President for these times), carefully control social life so it’s timed according to my reading and woods time….and go to whatever woods are the most delightful for me at any given time. It could be Westtown School’s little woods walk around the lake, or it could be a drive up to French Creek State Park or Ridley Park or one of the preserves closeby. Or even right here behind my house in my own “little tiny wood.” Or it could be just a drive on our beautiful country roads here in Chester County – I often  say I could not live in a more beautiful place – I drive these roads every chance I have, just marveling at field and pasture and stream – out 842, 162, 401, 23, 82, 10 (magically beautiful routes and oh, so serene!) – we live in a gorgeous “virtual” painting! Oh, and an occasional drive into the three Ritz theaters in Philly on the cobblestone streets down near Independence Mall to see a great film (the ones you can’t see anywhere else), have a cup of tea at Cosi’s or City Tavern, and walk around my favorite, beautiful city! That can be a real heavenly thing to do!

That’s heaven on earth. My heaven on earth. Mindfulness, heaven on earth – that will get me through, and I hope everyone else can find their own individual ways to screen out the noise, to keep their health in these difficult times, to keep on keepin’ on. We must each create our own heaven on earth, push out those negative thoughts, don’t let the naysayers get you down.

And, finally, be like my friend:  She’s my role model right now, she’s my inspiration in these hard times. When those negatives start creeping into my life, I will always say to myself, “Be like her. If she can do it, so can I!”

Now, back to my friend’s good news. Something I’ve always noticed about her: She makes her own heaven on earth.

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One of the reasons I started this blog – written for my son – is to perserve personal stories; stories that I’ve heard from relatives and friends that will die with them if I don’t preserve them.  So here goes the first one of these stories:  The KKK and me.

My maiden name is Karen Kay Kingery. Get it? KKK!!  Ku Klux Klan.Well, I never thought a whole lot about it growing up. I had vaguely heard of THE KKK – but I didn’t give it any thought. Until one day in high school.  I was walking in the hall carrying my white gym sneakers – the ones with “KKK” on them in marker to identify that they were mine.  An African-American kid I knew was laughing as he walked by – he pointed to my sneakers and made a humorous comment, gently teasing me in a friendly way. It dawned upon me for the very first time, innocent as I was:  My God, I thought!  I was terribly, terribly ashamed for the first time in my life of my own initials!  I covered up the initials the rest of the day. I don’t know what else I did. Couldn’t afford to buy new new sneakers, I’m sure, so I must have blacked out the initials or something for the rest of the year. That boy never said another word to me about them, but remained friendly as ever (so he didn’t seem to think anything bad about them, to my great relief), but I suddenly wanted desperately not to let anyone else ever know my initials.

Now, let me be clear: My parents, who gave me those initials, I’m sure never meant anything by them. I’m convinced of that – we never talked about them, except my mother said she thought they were “cute” – but she  never mentioned once the KKK.  So I have no doubt there was nothing sinister in their naming me that.  Still, it created a mystery to me. I started wondering (and the civil rights era was in full force then, and I quietly was cheering it on in my own mind) if any of my ancestors had any contact with the Klan.

Three quick digressions (I’m a stream-of-conscientiousness writer):

West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1863 and joined the Union for the Civil War. The terrain in hilly, mountain-bound West Virginia didn’t lend itself to plantations and large slave populations, unlike richer, flatter tidewater Virginia. So West Virginia and Virginia had little, economically or culturally, in common.  From what I’ve read, there were a few slaves in West Virginia, but not that many. Even so, was the Klan there?

(Second digression) Well, I knew they were because of our long-time Senator, Robert Byrd. I grew to love Sen. Byrd in recent years because of his courageous opposition and eloquent speeches concerning the disastrous Iraq War. But he had “a past” as a poor young man in West Virginia who had, because of local custom, joined the Klan. The Klan was the southern version of the “Knights of Columbus,” the “Friars,” the “club” of its time in too many places – and  often the vigilante justice group. Sen. Byrd has spent the rest of his life apologizing for that – and I take him at his word. I don’t hold it against him.  (And all this is very personal to me, having married an African-American 40 years ago.) Anyway, Robert Byrd was some proof to me that the Klan did exist and have some local vigilante/social power in West Virginia in the 20th century.

(Third digression) As an aside, I have wondered about something else my entire life: I grew up in a loyally Republican family, and I could never understand why they (and so many Appalachians) were Republicans. My grandfather was a mineworker, and my mother always said, “John L. Lewis [United Mine Workers founder] was the savior of the world to us!”  So…..poor folks, union folks…Republicans?? Huh?  Cognitive dissonance, big-time, to me for years. It never made any sense to me, just never fit. But I have developed a theory:  Lincoln was a Republican. West Virginia joined the union, and my guess is that many West Virginians were Republicans during the Civil War, so it just got passed down….voila! So that might explain it:  They were Republicans for historical reasons having nothing to do with today’s pro-rich, pro-big-business – and pro-coal company! – Republicans.  The reasons for being Republicans had long ago ended, but folks tend to stay in the parties of their forebears (same with Democrats). That’s my theory – if anyone out there knows different, please enter a comment here!

Back to my KKK story….so I wondered for years about “the KKK and me.” Finally, on a visit to my parents a few months ago, Dad told me a story I’d never heard – and one I want to leave for our descendants. (I promise: They will be proud,)

My Dad’s father, Posey, left Dad and his four siblings and his mother when my Dad was about five years old. In the Depression, for crying out loud. Ran off with another woman. That was in Lincoln County – which once was listed as the poorest county in the poorest state.  I once asked Dad, “How on earth do people make a living there?” He answered, “They either have some of the few county jobs, or they’re on welfare.” There’s one stop light in the whole county, in the county seat, Hamlin.  So you can imagine how bad it was when my Dad and his family were left there face a cold, hard Depression-era life alone. There are more stories about that, some really hard stories…but I’ll stick with this one for now.

Dad said Posey ran away with a woman who was also married – to Ohio. I don’t know how long they stayed there – but she, at least, at some point returned to her husband, near my Dad’s home. Dad said, when she returned, my grandmother had a visit from the local KKK.  I swear, this is the first time I ever heard anyone in my family refer to that group, so my ears perked up.

He said the KKK offered, to my grandmother, to “take care of that woman” if she just gave the word (what that meant, I don’t know – but I’m sure it was violent).  My grandmother, sweetest woman on earth, absolutely refused and sent them away. She was too good-hearted to see that woman suffer. And, Dad said, the woman who ran off with Posey sat on her front porch all the time for years,  never had any children, and remained an outcast  –  looking lonely and sad, paying for her sins the rest of her life.  And my Dad told this with such compassion, such a sad tone.

I’ve never been prouder of my family than I was when I heard that story. Never. And, somehow, those initials didn’t mean so much any more. I got married and changed my name as soon as I could (when women were beginning to  keep their maiden names) because I wanted to get rid of those initials. But, hearing this story, I didn’t feel so embarrassed any more. I felt so proud of my “Mommaw Kingery” and her courage and humanity.

And that’s all  there is about the KKK and me.

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