Thursday, September 28, 2006

Places Everyone!

The mayor's name came before mine but mine was there. Page one of the program marking the Sing for Hope event which raises money for the AIDS hospice where I volunteer declared his status at the event -- honorary chair -- as well as mine -- member of the steering committee.

The first thought that came to me as I read the words was, "Who would have 'thunk' it? A girl from Greenfield, Tennessee sharing a page with the mayor of Houston!"

Then I smiled. Because what got him and most of the others page one recognition had a lot to do with power, position and money. I came to page one by way of cleaning toilets.

More than ten years ago, I began as a volunteer and in the first few years I was primarily a cook and cleaner at the house where essentially people living with AIDS go to die as a result of the damn disease. Some of my most calming meditative moments have been on my knees in front of the hospice toilets. It's quiet there. The fan drowns out the constant TV blare. You kind of face your own mortality in that you are gloved for a reason. And the experience is rather humbling. Pretty makes for a great atmosphere for prayer.

On Saturday night I rounded up a crew to work backstage for this event. We had teachers, folks from the medical profession, ministers, therapists and even a lawyer all ready to do whatever was asked of them ... in the quiet, in the dark, behind the curtain.

One of the ministers even acknowledged that on this, his first time, behind the scenes, he felt slightly strange and out of place. He was used to the light, to seeing the faces of his audience. I smiled once again. Because a decade ago, I made up my mind that I no longer had to say yes to every request for me to speak to the masses, that I didn't "need" the crowds, and that I was at my best making others look good. But I certainly understood his sentiment. We all need to find our roles and revel in them.

So Saturday in the dark, I spent a great deal of time smiling. Yes, I was on the front page but no one with money or power had a clue who I was. And if they'd scanned the well-groomed crowd of generous supporters, they wouldn't have found me.

But I was there ... exactly where I was supposed to be.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Birthday Wishes

I spent Saturday night with an adorable blonde. . . . And several of his best friends . . . . for his ninth birthday celebration.

I met up with the gang when they were playing flashlight tag in a park about a block from his house. His parents were in the throes of parenting, disciplining, and the usual party games. I offered to take the crowd home with the top down and the music as loud as we could get it given that we were in a residential area. No one seemed to have a problem with this idea.

We made the ride last a while. I was giving mom & dad time to make it back to the house and start the fire (yes, this is Houston and my sweat was sweating, but yes, they built a fire in the backyard for S'mores). Before we unloaded, we had snapshots taken.

Soon, I was staffing the S'mores "bar" preparing the graham crackers and chocolate to readily receive the cooked marshmellows. What I was really doing was getting as far away from that fire as I could. Wouldn't want the chocolate to melt prematurely, would we?

Tyler, who came to just above my thigh as one of the shorter buddies who were there for the sleepover, walked up to my makeshift bar and began a conversation. I looked up and then down to note that he was carrying his drink like I'd seen any number of men do at a cocktail party. Looking over the rim, taking a sip, he asked, "So what's your connection with this crowd?"

I tried not to smile at how by the minute he was becoming a schmoozer. "I'm a friend," I said.

"Oh, I thought maybe you might be the grandmother or something," he offered.

I'm only ten years older than the parents so I respond loudly so they can hear me, "No, I'm not the GRANDMOTHER."

But I'm smiling, actually almost laughing so I'm not sure that he's picked up on his faux paux until he says, with the determination I've seen many a man try to dig his way out of similar verbal holes, "Well, I just wanted you to know, you have a really, cool car!"

And with that he walked away to mingle with the other guests.

Later I judged the burping and arm farting contest and felt the need to insure he knew all was well between us so I declared him the arm fart king.

Again with the Tears ...

The play is called "The Normal Heart" and was written in 1985 by Larry Kramer, an initially reluctant and then in-your-face AIDS advocate, who portrays his own S.O.B.-ness quite well in the course of the 90 minutes it takes to recap the early days of what became known as AIDS.

A local theater group transformed an art gallery into their stage where an intimate crowd of about 50 could gather. When I attended only about 35 were there. The director explained in some opening remarks that several of his friends had applauded his acknowledging the 25th anniversary of the disease's discovery with this production. But that they had also told him they wouldn't be in attendance. Seeing what they'd lived was just too hard.

By scene 11 I was crying. At scene 16 and the close of the play, I was sobbing, shaking and wishing the intimate setting weren't quite so intimate. The bowing actors weren't three feet from my sniffing, snorting, napkin-blowing hysteria. I kept my head down but who was I kidding?

I sat still for just a few minutes to regain some composure and soon one of the actors came from backstage. He'd hurriedly dressed in order to make it to me. Asking my friend if it would be "appropriate" and then me, he hugged me long and hard.

"It's taken too long," he said in my ear as he continued to hold on and I began sobbing again.

He meant to cure this horrific disease. I agreed, but didn't have the heart to tell him that that's not why I was crying.

Yes, I have watched men & women die from AIDS. But I wasn't seeing their faces. Instead, I saw my friends and the bullying they'd endured through the years. I cried for the injustice, the insanity, man's inhumanity to man, and more. Not only did the government, the media, and the medical profession fail thousands in their initial unwillingness to acknowledge what the disease was doing, the homosexual community failed itself as individuals waged battles with one another rather than lead the way. I cried because bullies still exist and men and women still closet themselves away.

Quote of the Week

Referencing the continuing gaping hole that exists where the twin towers in New York once stood and the ongoing debate as to how to commercially use and/or memorialize in the space, William Falk says, "I've always admired how the Israelis and British cope with terrorist attacks: They clean up the mess, mourn their dead, and quickly rebuild what's been damaged. It's a statement of defiance: Do your worst. Our lives will go on, and we shall prevail. We've not been attacked again these past five years, and that is no small thng. But Osama bin Laden, the murderer of 3,000 people, remains free, and the pit his minions created as a mounment to nihilism still taunts us. We could, and should, have done better."

Wisdom – Just a Keystroke Away

The Week tipped me to a wonderful idea/resource. Elder Wisdom Circle is a web site offering insights into relationships, money, careers and other matters to thousands of young adults who want to hear what 60+ year olds have to say about their issues. Managed by 600 senior citizens from around the country, the website allows for questions to be answered for free. Here are just a few of the topics:
20 and Never Had a Boyfriend
4 Year Old Won't Eat
Accepting a Generous Offer
Afraid of Men After Assault
Against Daughter's Plan to Shack Up
Am I Too Picky with Men?
Become a More Patient Parent
Can't Tell If She Likes Me
Career as a Musician
Cheating on Husband, But I Still Love Him
Choose Education or Love?
Considering Adultery
Daughter Has Controlling Boyfriend
Explain Dysfunctional Family to a 3 Year Old?
Feel Like Mother Disowned Me
Feeling Trapped By Girlfriend
Follow Head or Heart?
Friend Not Repaying Loan
Handle Affairs for Aging Father
Having Trouble Getting Over Break Up
He Avoids Sex
He's Affectionate, Fun...and an Alcoholic
Help Mom Celebrate Wedding Anniversary
His Cursing Bothers Me
How To Deal with His Anger?
How to Tell Mom I Need Therapy
Husband Traveling Without Me
I Hate School
I Suspect Age Discrimination
I want a dog!
I'm terminally ill - How can I prepare my child?
Ideas for Spicing Up a Relationship
In-Law Wants to Reconcile After 20+ Years
Jewelry Gift Ideas
Keep a Confidence, or Tell Police?
Lonely College Freshman

I’m impressed with the responses I checked out. I didn’t do an extensive read of the site but I love the idea that (a) young adults are acknowledging there is wisdom to be had and (b) senior adults are willing to think thoughtfully and give their time and insights to others.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I've Lost that Lovin' Feeling ... Or Maybe Not

I'm on the email list of one of the pastors I work with and he wrote a piece on love that just came to my inbox. I'd connect you to the article but they seem to be having website trouble so let me just say that it did exactly what it was supposed to do ... made me think.

So . . . thinking about love brought me to this: I don’t know that I’ve ever felt loved by God or another human. And therefore, I don’t know if I can long for it the way that we often speak of that kind of longing. I don’t discount that God loves me. I believe/faith that to be true. I just can't say that I've felt it. And feeling is a large part of this picture. And while I know my mother loves me, for most of my thinking life (i.e. after my dad died when I was ten), I’ve often felt I had to care for her. Obviously, with that whole "dying" thing, I never really connected with a daddy’s love because he dropped out of the picture too early. And, no man has ever really made me feel that connected to him. I wanted to be "in love." I wanted to "feel love." But I can't say that I'd know what it looked like if it happened upon me.

My friends come close. And maybe I’m making more of it than it really is, but love is a tricky thing for me.

What about you? Felt it? Known it? Can you describe it?

*By the way, don't fret for me. This is not an anquished plea. I probably have some warped expectation regarding a feeling with roots deep within my past that me and a good therapist could unearth. I'm just curious if love is more an action for me than a feeling and if that's true for others as well.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

So what would it look like? And what's my part?

Today's Chronicle carried an essay by Robert Jensen, a University of Texas professor who five years ago wrote a piece about 9/11 that outraged readers. Today's commentary was entitled "5 years later, still a voice crying in the wilderness" and he hasn't backed down. Here are the paragraphs that caught my attention:

Sept. 11 offered a dramatic moment in which the most powerful country on the planet could have led the world on a new course. U.S. leaders had a choice to either (1) manipulate people's legitimate fears and understandable desire for vengeance to justify wars of control and domination, or (2) help create a world in desperate need of more justice, not more war.

To choose the latter would have taken visionary leadership; a role for which, sadly, virtually no one in the Republican or Democratic parties appeared qualified, then or now. But there such voices -- not leaders but ordinary people, speaking out clearly and early . . .

He goes on to describe the thinking of the antiwar activists. What he doesn't do is describe their actions toward justice.

I think I'm ready for that article to be written. I want to do something. I want to act. But what's an ordinary woman to do?

Ann Richards died

I didn't know her yet . . .

She inspired me. She made me smile. She claimed a destiny worthy of her. I will miss knowing she's out there.

The Tear's Tale

The tear rolled down my cheek and I caught myself wondering if it looked as dramatic as it does when it happens on the big screen. The lone drop found its way to my upper lip and I licked it away, tasting its saltiness. Then I wondered if he would think that I was attempting seduction or tidiness.

The taste reminded me of the reality of the moment. I relished the onslaught of feelings -- something I hadn't allowed myself to do with this much intensity in a long while -- and yet I was pained that this moment was truly momentary.

Giving up something you want desperately but can't have is a very adult thing to do. And that tear carried with it the knowledge that the days ahead would not be fun, silly, and childlike as the hours had been previously. That tear carried with it horrible wisdom.

Afterwards, I reached out to someone else. The spontaniety of the act was welcomed but couldn't be met. Too busy. But instead of giving up, staying in my darkened room and enjoying the fruits of a fine pity party, I tried again. Second chances are so very rewarding, don't you think? And, in a friend/brother, found a companion for my post-yuck journey. We drove with the top down, taking in the sunset, the reflections off Houston's glorious towers of steel and glass, the right-ness of the two of us simply enjoying what we have. Dinner outside at a new place with all the right points for coolness and I was back at "me" again.

Today the tear's taste lingers . . . yet peace has found its way into my thoughts as well. So I'm smiling . . . and wondering what's next.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Oh My (fill in your favorite deity)!!!

If I had gone into this weekend with some sort of intentionality, this blog would be much more inspirational. Instead, for the most of the 72 hours that made up September 8-10, I was simply doing what people said. Of course, I still wound up having the time of my life so who cares!??

Last week my Toyota had another hiccup. I loved that car (hint: the past tense there is a clue as to one thing that happened). But this year, it's had several small things go wrong. When I started having to open my door by rolling down the window and using the outside latch, I had a rather strong reaction to the idea that my redneck roots might be showing. So I began to consider selling.

That "consideration" started on Wednesday and by Friday I was driving to Galveston in my new "salsa red" VW Beetle convertible. The coolest part of the experience was how my friends assisted in the process and, yet, I still did the negotiating (something I hate) and got a GREAT drive out price. (Note that I can now use the lingo!)

Friday night and Saturday were spent in a work gig that had me well outside my comfort zone but I survived and with less than 100 miles on the car, put the top down and drove down the Seawall with a smile on my face.

The next morning I drove to a nearby airport and prepared to JUMP OUT OF A PERFECTLY GOOD AIRPLANE!!

By Sunday afternoon I'd fulfilled a lifelong desire . . . skydiving. I jumped in tandem with a yellow-haired (and I don't mean blonde) pierced guy named Hoop who was more than happy to display his piercings and his passion for the parachute. He kept me calm with his deep Texas twang and his 12 years of experience. At 9,000 feet, I felt a tad bit of reservation but by 14,000 feet, I was ready to go.

Until I looked down. With nothing between me and the ground but puffy white clouds, I might have hesitated except for the fact that Hoop was counting and we were already on "Get Set" which meant "Go" was happening NOW!

I didn't so much jump as I simply fell out of the plane. I arched as instructed and began looking at the device strapped to my wrist that told me altitude. I smiled at the camera man who was being paid well to come along for the ride. We spun around for several seconds. And then at 6,000 feet we pulled the cord. WHOOSH! I was hanging in mid air. A couple of spirals which felt like free falling without the speed or as I described it to Hoop in what could only be called an exclamation, "We're dancing in the clouds!" and then I was stretching out my legs for the landing.

Which we did on four feet and not our behinds, thank you very much.

So in one weekend ... two dreams fulfilled.

What could possibly be next?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I Can't Keep Meeting Like This

The season premiere of Nip/Tuck (yes, it's unacceptable for most children and most adults and, yes, I watch it) the surgeons performed their 5,000th procedure and marked the event by using gold scapels embossed with the number and date.

I think I should get a gold plated something for my millionth meeting! A chair? A donut you sit on when you have "issues"? A wall to beat my head against?

Surely something is worthy of signifying that I've been there, done that and done it again and again and again for the last 20 years!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Acting Grown Up

When we challenged the pastors in the room, humor, experience and -- for him at least -- academics were our tools. But we excelled because of our guts. We just knew -- when to interrupt the other with just the right story, what experience should follow a particular anecdote, etc. We were best friends and we were great teachers.

Then life happened.

I divorced my husband. He got a job that demanded his full attention. The freelance gigs we'd partnered on dried up.

And he erased me.

We had not had an affair. We'd been incredibly intentional about defining boundaries for the on-the-road lifestyle our workshops demanded. We had simply been friends with a lot in common.

So I couldn't comprehend how suddenly we went from on to off.

I made up a lot of possibilities. I had to. He wasn't around to add to or take away from storylines. I tried phone calls. I sat across the table once and hinted I was having a problem with his behavior. I finally broke down in tears when we were two years into the absence. He'd dropped by my office while in the building and tried a caring tone when he asked, "How are you? Really."

I didn't answer. I couldn't. Later I sent an email. I spelled it out. He never responded. I learned later that he'd definitely received it but had simply avoided any form of an answer.

Recently, I've been hanging out with his students. They obviously respect him. They tell me he even quotes me. Every time they mentor his name I flinch . . . . They notice.

Then it hit me. We teach authenticity, transparency, even conflict management. The time had come to practice what we teach.

I called him and made a lunch date. He agreed. I told him the subject matter and that's when I learned he'd ignored the email. I tried hard to breathe.

We met. I started.

"I've been practicing my 'I feel' statements," I began.

And the list followed -- abandoned, lied to, invisible.

He listened and replied, "What you need to hear above everything else I'll say is this. I've been a shitty friend, the shittest. And I'm sorry."

I agreed. Then I forgave and then I admitted that that was all I'd come for.

He offered reasons which were among the scenarios I'd already conjured up. He apologized again. He asked me about my family. For a moment, I contemplated not asking about his because I wasn't there to pick up our relationship where we'd left off. But I knew that grown ups need not play such games. I asked.

We parted as old friends who would occasionally connect as professionals. That was enough for me.

I left smiling because acting like a grown up is sometimes better than being one.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Listen . . .

Sometimes it’s the sounds.

Ticking from a clock is that much more pronounced . . . and profound as you wait for chewing to begin again . . . the resident having momentarily forgotten he was eating a tortilla for breakfast. I pick the half eaten food away from his pajamas, note the ticking and continue to wait.

Sometimes they startle. Sometimes they soothe. The whoosh of the industrial toilets as we complete the daily cleaning . . . water on tile in the walk-in shower, where my partner is assisting the newest woman resident with a shower. We’re told she just needs help getting to the hallway facility. My friend discovers her weakness is more defined and becomes intimately acquainted with her new friend . . . who, by the way, is from Africa.

Sometimes they're necessary, even critical. Though we're a hospice and tend not to have the life-saving bells and whistles of most hospitals. One resident has both AIDS and a pre-existing lung problem. So he getst oxygen. The steady sssssss is reassuring. Not so the clanging of the mop handle on the floor as I rush to catch the ringing phone, unanswered because the nurse is attending to the Spanish-speaking young man who understands nothing of what is being told him and little of anything else that’s happening. He’s got brain cancer.

Sometimes the randomness attracts my attention. Jean zippers and buckles toss and tumble in the massive dryers. Click . . . click . . . We’ll be doing laundry throughout the four hours we here.

A walk down the hall reminds me of channel surfing. TV programs -- continuous and loud -- come from every room, even empty ones or where someone is sleeping. The medium is the massage. One resident admits to a science fiction interest as though it were a confession, but it provides us a connect to discuss while I clean his room.

The minute I arrive as a volunteer, I stop breathing through my nose. Occasionally, I recognize that I'm going through the motions without really seeing what's going on around me. After more than a decade at this assignment, it's easy to do. So much of my work is manual labor, so I can go for more than an hour and not say much of anything, especially when most everyone is sleeping.

The sounds are different though. They're normal, but amplified, like much of life at an AIDS hospice.