Ice Cream Cake

(for my dad, who’s not here)

It’s your birthday,
and you’re not here.

I’m still right here.
Moving through my days
in the same house, the same place.

Okay,
some things have changed.
I mean,
it has been ten years
since I saw you.

A lot of time has passed and now,

I don’t miss you
any more.

I hardly ever think of you
the very moment I wake up.

You’re not on my mind
a thousand times a day.

I don’t see your face
everywhere I look.

I no longer have the urge to call you
sixty times a week.

I don’t cry at the mention of your name
every single time.

I do not feel the overpowering all-encompassing gut wrenching emptiness in my heart
every second of every hour.

No. I don’t. I don’t miss you
any more.

But it might be different
as I move through this day,
in this place where you once were,
in this house that you once knew.

Because I’m still here. Right here.
And you, you are not.
And it’s your birthday.

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My (white) Privilege

Lately, everywhere I look there are articles about race relations, bigotry, and white privilege. The revolution has been going on for decades, but it seems to have picked up some steam recently. Another defining moment in history is upon us.

This time, I will be an active participant. And it starts right here.

I was born in Newark NJ in the immediate wake of the riots of 1967. I’m a white lady. Our neighborhood was still relatively white compared the rest of the city, with a lot of light brown mixed in. I had friends from all over the world, mostly Puerto Rico, India, Cuba. There were a few black kids in our grammar school, but I could probably count them on two hands.

My grandfather lived next door. I saw him every day. He was a bigot. I didn’t know it as a young child. It was just the way he talked. And the vocabulary he used was a part of my upbringing.

I can vividly remember the last time I used the word ‘nigger’. It was and remains a defining moment in my life. I was walking to school with a girl friend of mine, who happened to be black. Another friend was walking toward us down the block waving and calling our names. He was too far away and I couldn’t tell who he was. When he got closer and I recognized him, I said, “Oh, it’s you. From far away you looked like a nigger”.

Just like that. I said it.

I still get sad every time I think about it. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

But at the time, it was just a word to me. Just a word that my grandfather used at our dinner table, along with other words like “chink” and “kike”.  A word that really had no more gravity to my eleven year old self than “German” or “ American”. The rantings of a man who had too much table wine. But at that moment, when I said it, I saw my girlfriend’s face and I knew that it wasn’t just a word. It was something that I shouldn’t say.

A curse word. A cursed word. Something I would never say again.

I have tried my whole adult life to surround myself with people who have an understanding of the gravity of the word and everything that goes along with it. So the only time I ever hear it is in movies and in songs.

Until recently. I think it was the events in Ferguson that stirred up the racist pot in my life.

Two weekends ago we were sitting around our campfire in Pennsylvania. Some neighbors stopped by to sit around our fire and have a beer or two. We were having a lighthearted conversation about pets. “Who likes dogs?” “I prefer cats” “I would love to have a monkey”. Out of nowhere one of our visitors said “If you want a monkey, you have to go to Newark”.

I shot him a look and decided to let it go because I thought no one else had heard it. And he was probably drunk.

As we continued talking about monkeys and how they could be trained he spoke again “You can’t train the monkeys in Newark” he said, with a bit of a slur.

Was he looking to get a rise out of me? “Are you KIDDING me?” I said. I looked around as everyone else continued the conversation, barely noticing him. Meanwhile, I was seething. Thankful that my kids weren’t around the fire. Trying to rationalize the fact that he was drunk. That it wasn’t worth the argument. But still seething. I took a sip of my beer and decided, once again, to ignore him.

A few minutes later the conversation turned to sports. Not my area at all, so I basically just sat back and listened. Someone started talking about Jimmy the Greek and the statement that he made about blacks being better athletes than whites.

Oh shit. Here we go again.
“How could he get fired for that?”
Wait. Wasn’t this, like 30 years ago? Are we really talking about this?
“It was a good thing he said. It wasn’t bad”
I can’t hold it in any more..
“It’s a racist statement.” I said, probably loudly. “It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing. If you’re talking about a whole race of people, it is racist.”

As I begin to speak my mind, the anger started to rise up. I knew that I shouldn’t argue, but I could definitely feel it coming.

And then the monkey-man over on the other side of the fire decided to speak again. And the words that came out of his mouth were so horrible, so hateful, so inhumane. They have been turning over in my head for two weeks. I get nauseous every time I think about them. It has taken me two weeks to be able to write them down.

He said “I liked it better when they had fear. When they knew if they acted up they’d be hung.”

HO-LEE shit! Holy Shit! What did he just say? Are you KIDDING me!?!

I cannot explain the feeling. A wave of nausea, anger, heat, coursed through my body. My heart sank to my stomach as my stomach rose up to my throat. All of the injustices in the world swam through my head. And it was just a millisecond, before I was on my feet and some words were coming out of my mouth.

Honestly I don’t remember them all. But I know I said, loudly, “Are you fuckin’ kidding me!?” as I stood up and started walking, and “I WILL NOT be part of this conversation. I will NOT!” as I left.

I left my own fire-pit, my own back yard, and walked inside. I tried to catch my breath while the shock and anger came out in a stream of tears. After a few minutes I heard them drive off in their golf cart and I went back out to our other guests.

Over the past weeks I have remained unsatisfied with my reaction. Okay, he was probably more drunk than I imagine, and an argument would not have been wise. Maybe I should try to shrug it off as just the rantings of some drunk ignorant guy.

But in hindsight, I think I should have very calmly said “Please leave. That shit will not be tolerated here”.

Even though I pride myself on embracing differences and being an accepting person, I cannot accept this. And even though I do my best to tolerate what I cannot accept, I can’t tolerate this.

And so it was. Another defining moment in my life.

I made a very conscious decision two days ago. I will not ever sit by quietly and listen. If the bigots are going to make their opinion known, I will also make mine known. Zero tolerance from this point on.

So, last night we were leaving a restaurant. There was a scene unfolding in the parking lot. A well-dressed pretty white lady was standing by a car. She looked a little bit teary-eyed. A security guard pulled up and the sad pretty lady walked to the driver’s window. The security guard was a young black woman. A car pulled up in front of the security car blocking some of the parked cars, including mine. A white man in casual clothes walked out of the car, visibly upset, He moved quickly with long strides toward the woman shouting “Get in the car!”

We continued walking to our car. John and Shannon were up ahead of me. I couldn’t hear what was happening, but I was afraid for the sad lady, so I moved slowly. There were some words, and then the man took hold of the lady’s arm and they started back toward his car. The lady walked to the passenger door. As the man got to the driver’s side he turned and looked back at the security car. He dramatically, emphatically stuck up his middle finger and yelled at the top of his voice “Fuck you, nigger!”

Oh shit. Here we go…

Not a second was wasted as the anger surged up in me and the words just came flying out of my mouth, probably very loudly, “Are you kidding me? You’re kidding me right?!”

He ignored me, but the sad lady looked back at me, and then at my daughter and said “I’m sorry.” I think I said “Are you kidding me?” again. “I’m so sorry” she said, as the man got in the car and continued to curse.

I looked back at the security lady, threw my hands in the air and said, more like screamed it again, “Are you kidding!?” She just looked at me and raised her hands off of her steering wheel and shrugged her shoulders. The man drove away, as my husband said “Come on, get in the car, it’s over.’ And I got into my car.

“People make me sick. So very sick” I said to John and Shannon, defeated, as I fought back tears.

Thoughts raced through my head as I drove away. Should I have gone to the security lady and demanded that she call the cops. Did she call the cops? I think she must have, because he was probably too impaired to drive. Did she call them? Or did she just shrug it of as the rantings of some drunk ignorant guy?

“What’s going on lately? John said, trying to lighten the mood, “You’re like a racist magnet.”

“Maybe the universe is telling me I have to do something about this.”

Is it?  Maybe it is.  So I am going to do something about this.  It starts right here.

And it is going to be my privilege.

 

 

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This One Time, At Band Camp

To measure the passing of time, I look at my children, and my friends’ children. The oldest of those kids have already gone off to college. When I hear about them or see them I am always amazed. Amazed in that that holy-shit-we-are-getting-old sort of way.

The passage of time is not linear. It’s exponential. Moving faster and faster every year.
Like a runaway train. Gaining momentum and barreling toward the tunnel of mortality.

Mildly depressing? Perhaps.

This happens to me every year in August. But this summer seems to be rushing by like no summer before it. Already more of it behind us than ahead.  All too soon we will be back to our Septembers.

But before September, there is band camp. My Maggie is going to band camp.

She is going away.  Away from me!  For days. And nights! To band camp.  And we all know what happens at band camp. Things happen at band camp. Scary things!

Things like gaining independence, forming lasting meaningful friendships, moving closer to adulthood. Things like growing into a person of strength and character who can stand on her own two feet. Sigh.

When I put her on that bus, I know I will see the 4 year old that I walked into pre-school looking up at me. Ohhh, the tears that were shed on that day. (All mine.)

Then there will be tortuous days of worrying and waiting for texts to let me know she is alive and well. Her one-word answers like ‘Yup’ and ‘Kk’ offering little relief to my unrealistic anxiety.

And I imagine that when I meet her at the bus at the end of the trip, she will be a grown woman, running at me with a pair of scissors, ready to cut the apron strings once and for all.

Mildly dramatic? Perhaps.

But that time-train keeps on rolling.   And sometimes it looks very much like a bus to band camp.

 

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Turn on the Day

I have always hated the news. Mostly because it is so biased and skewed that the real truth is often lost somewhere along the way. Never to be found.

But lately, the facts are undeniable. There have been so many senseless acts of violence both locally and globally that watching the news has become overwhelming. When I do watch, I vacillate between anger and extreme sadness. I’m finding it difficult to merely observe the news, simply listen to the stories, without letting them sink into my body.

Talking about it, watching it, knowing it, doesn’t make anything better. I want to stick my head in the sand, and then I chide myself for not getting involved and trying to change things. I am having a hard time distancing myself from the pain and the sadness.

After reading an article today about the bodies of the people who were murdered on Malaysian Air Flight 17 (the mere thought of it causes tears to well up in my eyes, and bile to rise up to my throat every single time) I decided I had enough.  Enough bad news. I can’t get on a plane and help anyone. So obsessing over this, reading every article,seeking it out isn’t doing me any good. In fact, it is making me physically ill.

And just then a friend posted the Bill Withers song “A Lovely Day”.  So I watched the video, and listened to the song, and I let that sink into my body instead. Diversion and denial. My go-to defenses.

That video started me on a YouTube roll about happy songs, and I when I stumbled upon The Rascals’ “It’s a Beautiful Morning” I decided to post it. Because it is a beautiful morning. And because screw the news.

I googled the song, as I often do. I like to find out when it was written, what the story behind it is. Are there cover versions? Are they any good? What are the actual lyrics, not the ones I’ve been singing wrong all these years?

I was beginning to enjoy myself when I got to the bottom of the lyrics page and saw the links for other articles:
“Couple Killed Just Moments After Taking this Beautiful Photo”
“7 Stars Whose Parents Committed Horrible Crimes”
and a picture of a mummified face with the caption “There are Places in the World Where this Could Happen to You!”

More bad news. More horrific stories. More sensational, terrific words to drag me in to someone’s screwed up agenda.

So I scrolled back up.  “It’s a beautiful mornin’, ahhh. I think I’ll go outside for a while, And jus’ smile.”

And then I turned the computer off.  Because screw the news.  It’s gonna be a lovely day, lovely day, lovely day, dammit.

 

 

 

 

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My Dirty Laundry (Literally)

Home.  It’s nice to be home.

Back home after a 10 day road trip through Canada.  We had an amazing time. We put 1600 miles on the car and what felt like 600 miles on our feet.    We saw a lot of sights, ate a lot of food, had a lot of fun,  met a lot of people, and now we are home.  Ahhh, home.

The first thing I did when I unpacked the car last night was bring the hefty bag full of dirty laundry down to the basement. Time to catch up. 

I threw a very large load of clothes into the washing machine and headed upstairs to unpack and unwind.   I moved them to the dryer about an hour later and threw a second load in the washer.  When I went down a while later to remove them, they weren’t dry yet because the load was too big.   I peaked into the dryer and I saw some black spots on one of the lighter colored shirts.  Uh oh. 

I opened up the dryer and there it was. A pen.  A pen was in someone’s pocket. And now there were ink stains on everything in the machine.  Which was basically every item of clothing that I owned. 10 days worth of summer clothes. All of the girls’ shorts and tank tops. Everything.  Sigh.

I took them out. Spot treated the big spots, transferred the other clothes to the dryer, and placed the entire load back into the washer.   I’m going up to bed.  

This morning John told me he had put the clothes in the dryer and thrown another load in the wash before I woke up.   Nice! Now we’re almost caught up. 

When I went downstairs and opened the washing machine to take them out, everything was pink.  Every white sock, every white t-shirt, pink.  Everything. Sigh. 

I’m sure there are lessons to be learned from this. Maybe it’s a metaphor. I don’t know. Whatever. I’ll just be covered in scribbles and pink for a while.

It’s nice to be home.

 

 

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That Was Just a Dream. Just a Dream.

Last night as everyone in my house slept soundly, I drove myself to the ER. I had an excruciating pain across my right back. I couldn’t lie still in bed, and every time I took a breath in I saw bright white light. So I made an executive decision and took myself to the hospital.

While I was sitting in the waiting area, filled with coughing homeless people and crying babies, I tried to breathe shallowly but calmly and be present in the moment. I tried not to worry about what I didn’t even know yet.

My current yogic intention for the summer, my current sankalpa is “Equanimity in all things”.  I’m working on reacting to all situations, especially the trying ones, with stability and composure.  This was my first opportunity to greet severe pain with a balanced mind, so I tried to embrace the learning experience. Holy hell, this is hard! Just breathe. Stay present.

I did begin to worry about my morning classes. So I calmly sent midnight texts and emails to people, asking for someone to cover for me. (Thanks so very much to my yogis who could.) And I refused to stress about the day ahead. I just have to breathe and stay calm.

After an exam and a battery of tests it was determined that I was having a “bad muscle spasm”. That’s all.  This is just a muscle spasm?  This sure is some spasm! I was told to take naproxen and a muscle relaxer if I wanted to fill the prescription. And to get some rest. Right, rest. 

I came home and slept fitfully in an upright position on the couch, since lying down was not an option. I woke up and moved slowly through the morning so I could send my girls off to school, giving them the most equanimous explanation. “I had some pain that concerned me, so I went to the hospital. They ran tests to be sure it was only a back spasm, and it is. No worries, girls. Off you go!”

And then I sat back on the couch to sleep again; a fitful sleep and a vivid dream…

At one point after wading through a river, I found myself in a town square with my mother and two aunts. My one aunt, who is around sixty years old and autistic was wearing clothes that exposed the front of her body, like a hospital gown. She began making loud grunting noises, removed the gown and started running around in her underwear. My other aunt and I began chasing her around the village green and calling her name furiously. Chasing and calling. Ducking, weaving and screaming. Frantically following her toward a building.

As we got closer to the building I saw a woman coming from the other direction toward the front door. Her hands were filled with what looked like very heavy shopping bags. She looked right at me, in the midst of my panic, with a sympathetic smile.  She lifted her burdened arms up and out to her sides, and said “I guess today, we just”.

A young man walking behind her with a head of curly hair and a bright face repeated with a shoulder shrug “Mm hm. Today, we just!”

My throat got dry, my chest constricted and tears welled up in my eyes. That simple expression of acknowledgment and non-judgmental understanding filled me from the inside. I continued pursuing my aunt, but with a very different feeling inside of me. I just followed. I just waited for her to get tired of running. I just did what had to be done.  I just.

And then I woke up with a pain in my back and constriction in my throat. In the middle of a messy after-graduation-party-house that needs cleaning. Laundry that needs to be done, plans that need to be made. So many other things I was supposed to do today. Run. Chase. Duck. Weave. Scream.

But something is telling me to slow down. Something is telling me to “just”.  So instead of all of those things that I think must be done, I will just.

Today I will merely,
I will simply,
I will ordinarily.
Today, I will just. (end of sentence)

 

 

 

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Summer Soulstice

Back in February I gave up booze and bread for the month, and by the 28th,  I felt amazing.  Clear headed, clean bodied. Amazing.  On March 1st, I celebrated, and drank beer with my friends. But I stayed away from the pizza.  For a couple of weeks after that I was mindful of everything I ate and drank.

But some time in May, my pants weren’t fitting well, and my head was not so clear. It was then that I realized I hadn’t just slipped off the wagon, I drove that wagon off the edge of a cliff.

Lately, I’ve been eating bagels and pizza and Italian bread like I’m about to move to the middle of the country.  And I’m back up to midsummer-level beer consumption before the kids are even out of school.

So last week I decided it was time to get re-mindful, to take a look at what had happened to my head since March 1st.  No big deal.  It’s not a struggle. It’s not a fight. It’s a simple slowing down,  becoming once again conscious of every choice I am making.  It’s just been a matter of mindfulness and impulse control.

And now, I’ve decided to do it again.  Back into rehab,  because these old habits, they die hard.

I didn’t ever imagine that I would conquer my bread addiction on my first attempt.  Hell, I quit smoking repeatedly for 30 years. It hardly ever sticks on the first shot. Or second. Or third, or fourth…

It’s so easy to look at someone else who is doing something that is obviously not good for them and wonder why they are still doing it.

You are allergic to gluten and get sick every time you eat a cookie, but you still continue to eat them. What’s up with that?
You know smoking causes cancer and have even lost family members to smoking related diseases, yet you continue to smoke. Why do you do that?
You are late for work every single day, but you still leave the house at the very same time each morning.  When will you learn?

It’s also easy to see when someone isn’t doing something that can make their life better.   They know what they have to do, but they don’t do it.  And we wonder, why don’t they just do it already?

If you would start exercising and eating right your sugar would be under control. Just do it!
You’re always complaining about your lousy job, getting sick every Sunday night.  Yet you still go in to work every Monday.  If you would quit, your life would be so much better.
I felt so awesome on February 28th, but I slowly slid right back into my old behaviors.    What the hell?

We all have those things, don’t we? Those things we know we should do to make life better.  Or the things we know we should stop doing.   But we can’t.  Or won’t.  Or just don’t.

Obviously, sticking with it isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I need to constantly remind myself to be mindful.  So I am going back to my sankalpa “I make good choices”.

And I’m back on my wagon.    I know that having a group of people practicing mindfulness with me seems to boost my enthusiasm and make things easier.  So if you want to join me, if you are thinking about giving something up, or taking something on, let’s do it together.

You can jump on the wagon anytime.       Here:   https://www.facebook.com/events/692271527488957/692271530822290/?notif_t=like

 

 

 

 

 

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