This is a post that I wrote five years ago for my other blog, The Caregiver’s Corner. I’ve always identified with Sir Edmund Hillary, who grew up in New Zealand where my grandfather was born.I’m reprinting it here because it is quoted on my home page, and has special meaning to me, as I hope it will for you.
When Charlie turned 100 back in the 1970s, I went to interview him. There I was, twenty-something, with my whole life in front of me. I’m sure he got a kick out of our meeting. I wanted to know the secret of his longevity, and he was happy to oblige.
He greeted me at the door with a big smile and twinkly eyes peering out over his coke-bottle-thick glasses. His hair was snow white but remarkably thick, despite a bit of balding going on at the top. He wore grey slacks, a professorial cardigan sweater, and a crisp white dress shirt. On his feet were a comfortable pair of sneakers that somehow gave him a youthful appearance, and even though he used a cane to steady himself he did not lean on it much. Rather, he carried it along for security.
Listen to me, mister. You’re my knight in shining armor. Don’t you forget it. You’re going to get back on that horse, and I’m going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we’re gonna go, go, go! — Ethel Thayer, “On Golden Pond” (1981)
As some of you may already know, I lost my dear younger son, Christopher, a few weeks ago. Since then I have been unable to write more than a grocery or task list. I wanted nothing to do with reading, talking, or putting down on paper my innermost thoughts. I even got to the point where I didn’t care if I ever published another thing.
Something similar happened when I lost my mother in 2016: I couldn’t sing.
Like writing, music and singing have always been a huge part of my world. But for a whole year, I couldn’t get past the first few notes of a song without tears welling up behind my eyes and a burning feeling in my mouth as if I’d eaten a lemon! I despaired that I would ever be able to sing again without crying-especially the arias that my mother and I had enjoyed together.
Then one day, the spell was broken! Poof! It was as though my time for mourning was over and I had to get on with my life.
This loss has been different perhaps because, unlike my mother’s passing at age 89, it was not expected. I was able to function fairly well unless I said Chris’ name–at which point I’d unsuccessfully attempt to stifle a loud sob that would burst from the depth of me. I’d explain to my listener that I did that every time I said his name and then go on speaking as if nothing had happened. This occurred so many times that I stopped saying ‘Chris’ and started referring to him only as ‘my son.’
I soon realized that I was in no condition to go out into polite society or run into neighbors. So I bought a copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s little book, “Gift from the Sea,” which was recommended to me as a wonderfully inspirational short read. I grabbed one other book and packed my bags for a bit of time away at the New Jersey shore. Never mind that it was February, and there was snow on the ground. I was wounded worse than I had ever been in my entire life, and I needed to heal away from prying, even if sympathetic, eyes.
Never in my entire life have I allowed myself to do exactly what I pleased, when I pleased, and as much or little as I pleased. I intended to do a lot of things while I was away, and working on my manuscript was at the top of that list. But what I did was nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero.
At first, I slept very little, and ate almost nothing. My host thoughtfully provided a coffee maker and some delightful pods of a delicious brew – something I hadn’t enjoyed in a great while. I bought some apples and oranges. There was a television, which I didn’t want to watch, but I’d sometimes put it on without sound when it got dark. It wasn’t that I was lonely, but my room seemed so small when the draperies were closed without a ‘window’ to the outside.
When I’d wake in the small hours of the morning, I’d whisper through my tears all the prayers and Psalms I could recall from childhood. I sang hymns as they popped into my head. I pulled out my copy of Science & Health and read and read until I fell back asleep. Seeing familiar phrases that my mother used to quote was incredibly calming. My grandfather was known to say that, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” He was right.
Every day, I’d bundle up and go for a long walk. In the past, I’d had a hard time quieting the voice in my head that would either dart around aimlessly or delve deeply into a subject, depending on what was going on in my life. Now, there was only a strange, empty echo. Whereas I usually struggled when meditating to clear my mind, a hollow, vast silence was effortlessly achieved. I strolled along the boardwalk listening to, but not really hearing, the sound of the waves and the squawk of the seagulls.
Some evenings, I spoke to my dear sister, but I have no idea what I said. I only know that she was there for me, making me feel loved and safe, despite the three-thousand mile distance between us. I called a few other close relatives and a good friend, and they helped me more than I could ever say.
There were nights I’d sleep from early evening for twelve hours straight. I’d sometimes open my eyes to check the time on the LCD clock, and it was always some multiple of ninety minutes—a full cycle of REM and non-REM segments. I’d just figure out when the next three or four-and-a-half hours would be, wake up again, check the clock, and go back to dreaming.
And dream I did. Over the weeks, I was ‘visited’ by many people I had known over the course of my life, including my parents (together and one at a time), as well as other significant figures. My son–or the person I perceived to be my son–was often present. Once my ex-husband, who passed in 2009, suddenly appeared. I had been holding a little child’s hand, and he said to me as clear as day, “I’ll take care of him now.” I woke up crying, feeling the loss more acutely, but also a sense of responsibility melting away. Upon awakening, I felt refreshed and as though my subconscious had been working out a lot of things that I couldn’t deal with during the day.
I vacillated between grieving and reasoning with myself about the timing of my son’s death. He was forty-nine, not a little boy. Would it have been harder if he had not had time to enjoy his life? He was ill – and probably for a long while, but he got up each day with a smile on his face and went out and did his job. He could see the worried look on my face, but he’d grin and tell me, “I’m fine. Don’t worry.” And every single time I’d see him, he’d wrap his big, strong arms around me and say, “I love you, Mom!”
Would it have been better if he’d spent the last part of his life shuttling between doctor appointments? He’d traveled back and forth to Memorial Sloan-Kettering with his father during his final illness, spent long nights with him at the end, and had seen how a body can be ravaged. After that experience, he never again told me that if I got sick, he’d drag me kicking and screaming to a doctor. His girlfriend became very ill years earlier, and he was there each time they “took out parts” as Chris would say, to prolong a life that held little joy for her at the end.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book lay half read on my nightstand. I just couldn’t identify with her. Published in 1955, her feminist manifesto was not what I had been led to believe it was. It was not a quiet time of reflection, but rather an escape from an overbearing, philandering husband, a parcel of children, and a three-year affair.
But that was not the point. The idea of her book-a personal ‘time out’-had given me the impetus to escape the ordinary, oppressing, obligatory rituals that might have been my lot. It prevented me from having to sift through papers and go through drawers and closets before I was emotionally ready to do so. It taught me once again the power of prayer. It shored me up and gave me the time to reflect upon and remember my past, and reassess my future.
I know from experience that sorrow and loss ebbs and flows. I know that this pain will lessen, but never really disappear. In truth, I wouldn’t want it to. In the last analysis, things happen as they should, and for a reason. We don’t understand this fact as we go through our challenges, but when we look back on them, the pieces all fit together…perfectly.
Christopher used to sing Bon Jovi’s song and I can hear his voice now–a little off-key, but joyful nonetheless.
I have a dear friend who is about as knowledgeable as they come when discussing topics of great importance, and I rely on her to make me aware of things that I might not normally seek out.
Nina Anderson, a former corporate jet pilot, author of 18 books and CEO of Safe Goods Publishing, is an intelligent and passionate maverick-a trailblazer of sorts-who is not afraid to speak out for what she believes. And what she believes is based on tireless study and impeccable research, coupled with a lifetime of sifting through the rubble of conflicting information for kernels of truth.
Nina has long been a canary in the mine about important subjects such as air and water pollutants, electromagnetic frequency and the dangers of wave technology. I trust her judgement. So when she sent me the attached article today to read entitled,5G Wireless Hazards, by Barbara Koeppel for the Washington Spectator, I settled into a comfy chair and prepared to be educated.
I read it aloud slowly so that I would understand every word and timed myself. It took me about an hour. I read the full article FOR YOU, because I doubt that even one of you will take the time to do so. The article contains lots of names and dates and things that I won’t remember, but the gist of it is this:
Haven’t we had enough of people telling us what to think and believe? Haven’t we all agreed that we need to ‘follow the money’ in order to find out what’s true? Recent events have shown us how lies can percolate, and even the little white ones can come back to haunt us! Corporations are not going to save us. We know that their over-arching concern is not to us but to their ‘bottom line.’ We must be our own fact-checkers.
There are some very disturbing quotes in the attached article which illustrate how scientists HAVE PROVED that radiation from 5G and wireless technology is real and tangible, but companies (I won’t name them here) have withdrawn support when the outcome reveals that technologies are unsafe. Similar to the tobacco industry’s campaigns, these manufacturers have conducted major misinformation campaigns to lie and minimize or eliminate negative results to keep the truth from us-all for the love of money.
5G technology uses millimeter waves, along with microwaves (the type in current devices). Because 5G waves can only travel short distances, antennas and towers need to be installed every 300 to 600 feet on every block across the country, to receive and send signals. And this, Philips says, “increases the exposures exponentially.”
Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley, says “because the technology is so new, we have no way to know about the long-term health effects. But we do know that millimeter waves are absorbed in our skin and on the cornea and can harm the immune, nervous, and cardiovascular systems.”
I originally planned to write a little something about the disturbing events that took place at the Capitol the other day. However, the more I tried, the more vitriolic I became, and that was not my intention.
As I put pen to paper, I thought about my childhood. How boundaries, rules and limits are integral to everything we do in life from scheduling a calendar, to managing a business, raising a child and the running of a government. An overgrown garden, like an indulged child, can destroy the most beautiful landscape, and an undisciplined government can ruin a country.
Many people of late have been behaving like bratty children running wild with with their foul mouths and unruly behavior. I was disgusted to see rioters the other day wearing shirts imprinted with Nazi slogans. I think the idea of Freedom has been bastardized. It reminds me of horrid little children who cried ‘child abuse’ back in the 1990s and stripped teachers of their livelihood for patting a child’s shoulder to express encouragement. (Yes, I know people that happened to!)
To allow someone to drag our flag upside down and across the floor, to speak the most horrible, defamatory words to our elected government officials, to desecrate our hallowed halls with excrement-this boggles my mind. I lived in a time when Playboy magazine had to be wrapped in brown paper, men didn’t curse in front of ladies, and I could not wear a skirt to school if the length was above my knee! We didn’t whine about it or take it to court. We just tucked in our chins and saved the ire for the things that really mattered.
We have been shocked for decades about school shootings, but what have we done about it? We lamented police brutality even as we looked away because it didn’t affect us directly. We allowed pharmaceutical companies to peddle their poisons and destroy millions of lives because our ‘markets’ were producing as a result of their profits. We allowed corporations to dictate policy as if they were people. I could go on and on. We say we’ve worked hard to erase prejudice, but one of the biggest dividers of our country is now embodied in a couple of primary colors.
We lie like a rug-to our country, to one another, and to ourselves. Some of our media outlets lie because of the sponsors that support them. The lies beget misinformation, confusion, and distrust.
Our Congress lies because they are beholden to large corporations and lobbyists. They’re not all like that, thank goodness. They try to get their bills passed and support their constituents, but they are forced to accept a patchwork quilt of compromises. The ones that tell the truth and fight for the American people are either newly elected, threatened with harm, unable to raise capital for their election, vilified for their courage, forced to flee like rats off a sinking ship or resign because they just can’t take it anymore.
Our elected officials debate the Constitution ad nauseum as if they are asking it permission to do their jobs and when they do not like the answer, they debate some more. Or write another report. Or create another committee. They are not acting like the leaders we need them to be but rather like the permissive parents of unruly children who wring their hands and lament that if they are the ones to dole out the punishment, no one will love (donate to/vote for) them.
And now they are afraid. The little lion cub has grown up. The rest of the world doesn’t look at us with the same tolerance because we are only 244 years old.
One year, back in the 1970s when my sons were little, my parents got a huge washing machine appliance box, decorated it and brought it to our house on Christmas morning. They acted as if it was really, really heavy. They struggled to get it out of the car, and when the boys offered to help, they pointed to the caution stickers all over the package and said thank you, but it would be best if they stood back.
Finally, Mom and Dad made it up the driveway and the front steps, really hamming it up by breathing hard as they ‘rested.’ WHAT was in the box? Nothing had been said, so it was just as big a mystery to me as it was to my children.
They maneuvered the box out of the way and we proceeded to have our Christmas Dinner. All the while, the boys eyed the beautifully wrapped box with the big bow in the corner of the living room.
After dinner, Scott and Chris asked if they could open the mystery box first, but they were told it should be opened last. The minutes ticked by and of course their anticipation grew. Santa was pretty good to them that year, and they enjoyed watching the rest of the family open gifts that they had made. There was a pair of wooden lap trays my father helped them cut, stain and varnish that I have to this day. My eldest son wrote out a favorite recipe in calligraphy for my mother, and the younger one painted a picture for my dad.
“Okay, boys, you can open the box now.” Being mindful of the stickers pasted all over, they carefully peeled the paper which had an overabundance of tape on it. (My mother always did that. It drove me mad, but she loved suspense.) Finally, the two of them peered inside and smiled.
I was praying that they didn’t find a little puppy or kitten inside. The way they were acting made me suspicious. So my husband and I looked in and found a pretty sign my artistic father had suspended with thin wire to float within the box.
“Merry Christmas!” the sign read. “Contents are filled with love.”
I think that was the best gift ever!
But here’s the magical part: This morning, our Unchained Writers group was asked what the strangest gift we ever got for Christmas was, and I mentioned the story of this box. Instead of working on my manuscript during our writing time, something ‘led’ me to open one of a number of file drawers that I have not even touched for decades. Within THAT drawer was a collection of papers that included the two signs from that Christmas!
What are the odds? I wondered.
I sometimes believe people will think that I make this kind of stuff up. But it is true. What I am feeling at this moment is very hard to express, but it is the very best kind of gift I can imagine: to feel as though the people we have known are still with us in spirit, guiding us if we just listen.
Mother and I always looked forward to two classical music celebrations: The W-QXR Radio New Year’s Eve Classical Countdown and Ludwig van Beethoven’s birthday on December 16th.
I started my caregiver’s blog on this day so that I could remember the anniversary. I didn’t know that a mere five years later I would be listening alone, but she – and he, are as near and dear to me as always.
So today, I have the radio on and they are playing his Ninth Symphony (choral). I will vote for my favorites for the countdown (see link below). Later, I will put Immortal Beloved on the TV, just as Mom and I used to do. And I will cry. Again. As my sister says, she watches the classic movie King of Kings every year and each time hopes that it will end differently.
I wonder if he would have composed his beautiful music if his story had a happy ending. Perhaps he would have been a good husband and father. However, in order for the rest of us to have known his genius, “Es muss sein.”
Voting for the winner of the countdown ends December 18th.
I wrote this blog a few years ago during the last election when my mother was still alive. I’m reblogging it from my other site because it fits in perfectly with the ‘Growing up in the 1950s’ series I’ve begun here, as well as what I feel about our current media and it’s effect on our society and our personal harmony.
I was talking to my sister Andrea yesterday about the election and what’s going on in the world. She’s been fortunate enough to live in a number of enviable places, including Europe, on a boat in the Caribbean, and now in an RV in the Pacific Northwest. Each of these locations limited her access to a lot of the TV shows and news reports (with the exception, perhaps, of the PBS News Hour), but she’s somehow always managed to keep on top of the important stuff.
Even though I’ve been firmly rooted in Central New Jersey, surrounded by hundreds of TV stations and unlimited access to the internet, I, too, have always tried to be really selective about what what I put into my head. I prefer not to hear about murders and mayhem, so I get my information from PBS, NPR, and W-QXR, our classical music radio station that broadcasts from New York (but with an app, can be heard from anywhere). I figure that if it’s important enough for them to report on a topic, it merits some attention. Then I go to other sources to educate myself further.
Neither of us can just passively swallow the news, no matter where it comes from.
Dad & Me
Perhaps it all stems from the fact that our Dad was in advertising, and was very aware of the subliminal messages that were coming across the airwaves in the 1950’s. He made this little box with a wire to the TV, and whenever a commercial came on, we’d push a button to mute the sound, or ‘blab-off,’ which was what we called the gizmo. I can’t remember many of the jingles from that time frame because I just never heard them.
Dad & Andrea 1956
Once in a while Andrea and I would sneak and listen to an advert, and it was as if we were doing something deliciously naughty. That’s the only reason I’m able to sing the Alka-Seltzer or Winston jingles, two products that were ‘verboten’ in our household. Doublemint, Chevrolet, and Brylcreem (‘a little dab’ll do ya’) were OK. We were safe with those products and wouldn’t be tempted buy them because we had a Mercury, Dad used Vitalis (no greasy kid-stuff for him!), and ladies didn’t chew gum in public.
Do people today realize that even if they are not actively listening to advertisements when the TV is only on ‘in the background,’ that the messages are invading their subconscious? I am disgusted by all the pharmaceutical commercials that accompany evening television – advertisements that claim to ward off some of the ‘so-called’ unavoidable pitfalls of aging. My sister was lucky that she never really had to listen to all this!
We are bombarded with the promise of cures, tonics and creams for maladies ranging from wrinkles and osteoporosis to low-T and leaky bladder. We are exposed to topics that would never be discussed at the dinner table, and which are invited into our living rooms and given the best seat in the house! OB, ED, COPD, DM, AD, GAD, GERD, IBS, UTI – Do you understand these acronyms because I’m not going to spell them out for you. Depends won’t show, take the red pill, the little purple pill – but not together. And don’t call in the morning, unless the drug you took for anxiety makes you more anxious and maybe even suicidal, and one of the side effects might even be death and remember…we warned you about all this in that sweet-sounding voice when we showed you the couple watching the beautiful sunset with the lovely music in the background. Sure, it sometimes made you laugh, but that was the whole purpose.
I can actually remember the day that we got our first television. It was delivered and promptly set up in the center of the living room, although there wasn’t much to watch in the afternoon. Turn the dial and almost every channel had a pattern with an awful sound accompanying it. I think I was mesmerized by Crusader Rabbit. The 17” portable Philco TV was a ‘freebie’ when you purchased a freezer. I recognized it from the ad on the Internet; it had that foldaway antennae. $599 seems a pretty steep price for 1956, especially when you consider that you can buy a comparable freezer today at Costco for about $179, and an even larger TV for less than the $159.95 shown here (and in color, too).
My grandparents probably had the very first TV in the neighborhood, and everyone came to their house on Friday nights to watch the wrestling matches from Madison Square Garden. The kids in the family (there were so many of us) got to munch on pretzels and drink orange or grape ‘pop,’ but the coke and ginger ale was for the grownups so they could add stuff to it. Funny how you don’t remember things, but then you see photos, and it all comes back to you. ‘Gorgeous George’ was the big thing (wrestler) back then, and I actually do remember seeing his blonde curly hair being shaved off on March 12, 1959 after he lost a match. I was about eight.
I digress. I was going to start talking about Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob and Clarabell and Shari Lewis – but I’ll save that for another time and another conversation. (Reminiscing about the past is such fun!)
The point that I’m trying to make is that we need to keep vigil over what we allow into our heads, our hearts, and our bodies.
Yes, we can get upset about terrorism and the Middle East, refugees and illegal aliens, the disparity between the rich and the poor, what’s in our water supply, how the food is tainted with chemicals and that the local Board of Education wants to spend almost $20 million to upgrade the air conditioning and heating systems in seven schools. (Is that even possible?) Or, we can realize that some issues will never be solved by us and are better left to people who are more equipped to handle them than we are.
We should use our energy and emotions to try to change things that legitimately bother us and personally touch us, rather than allow the ‘discord’ of the world to invade our personal peace (space), and possibly destroy our health. We can educate ourselves about candidates and vote our conscience. We can choose to buy local and organic produce and fight for GMO labeling laws. We can be charitable to those less fortunate than ourselves. We can sign petitions that we believe are worthwhile and call our senators to take action on our behalf. And we can use the mute button on the remote.
As Mandy Hale says, “Pick your battles. You don’t have to show up for every argument you’re invited to.”
(Yay! When I read this to Mom, she remembered some of it!!!)
The most dangerous untruths are truths slightly distorted.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
It’s unbelievable how the pandemic numbers continue to climb. We were told they would ‘flatten’ and we looked forward to the day when we could get back to normal—whatever that means. But just when we thought it was safe to go back into the water, we learn that even people who have already had the virus can get it a second time. And now, there’s a “mystery illness” in India that is sending people to the hospital!
Sometimes I feel as though I am a survivor on a lifeboat in one of those old classic movies. When I think about what I would do if rescued, being with family and friends tops my list. I miss not being able to travel to see them (or to the places I dreamed I’d visit when I retired). Not seeing people smile through my fogged up glasses when I wear a mask, or even breathe properly while wearing it, compels me to stay at home and have my groceries delivered.
I crave the kind of deep, thoughtful conversations I used to have–especially with my mother who is now gone, but which I often had with friends, classmates and co-workers. The discussions were sometimes a little heated, but always respectful before everyone felt they needed to ‘take a side.’ Now, everything from politics to eating habits is like a sporting event or competition that must be won at all costs.
When I was in high school, I wanted to go into journalism. With role models like Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Katharine Graham, Edward R. Murrow and so many others, it seemed an honorable pursuit, but, as someone remarked the other day, that was “before journalists became propagandists.”
People have sent me links to articles and offers that seem either too good to be true or too outlandish to believe. On further examination, it has been something over-inflated, twisted or designed to inflame the reader. When I’ve pointed it out, I’ve been verbally attacked or ‘unfriended.’ I will admit, some jokes were funny-from both sides of the aisle, but I still found it uncomfortable to see a president–any president–made the object of mean-spirited ridicule.
I wish we could go back in time and fix the damage that has been done to relationships and to our society by being intolerant of differing opinions. I’m sad because I believe that friendships should not be contingent upon who I vote for! Anonymous sources, corporate funding and lay people posing as experts have diluted the ethics and reliability of the profession so much so that it is hard to discern what the Truth is from any source.
I willingly cut the cord on my FIOS-TV subscription and migrated to a Roku-enabled set so I wouldn’t have to listen to the inane chatter every night. I still get the news, but I seek out a number of outlets to try to obliterate any bias. I thought that with the election more or less over, the chatter would die down, but it seems to be escalating.
State voting officials continue to be victims of threats and violence in reaction to declarations of fraud and conspiracy. There seems to be no end to the hostility which threatens to unravel the heart of our democracy and our society. People are acting like beasts. I think back to that horrid dystopian book we were required to read in high school, “Lord of the Flies.” But is it true? Is the beast inside us all? I sincerely hope not.
I may be a bit too serious, but I know that I’m not alone in my thinking. I took a break from Facebook and social media because I was sick of the bickering. I received many phone calls and emails from people who wished they could do the same, but wanted to stay in touch with family. I guess FB is the only way to do that nowadays.
We Boomers have always felt that we were destined to make the world a better place, and there’s lots of real estate still to fix. Frankly, we’ve made quite a mess. The concerns I have at this stage of life differ from those I had in my youth. But at the very heart, we need to find common ground so we can heal our relationships, our country and our world before it’s too late.
So, I’m putting my toe back in the water. I want to learn more about issues that matter to me, and help to find solutions without labeling them socialist or fascist, left or right or center or Republican or Democratic. I want to take the high road and check and double check the facts. I don’t want to know how you voted. There’s just too much at stake.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could trust our media and other sources without having to apply the C.R.A.A.P. test to evaluate everything we see and hear? Yes, that’s the actual name.
I was reading a blog earlier today by Jeff Goins. He told how his daughter started making a fort at the playground, which inspired others to join her. At first, it was a single fort, but then the children branched out and made their own versions of what they thought one should look like. There was a little tussling, but they all got along well.
“… I can’t help but wonder if what our world needs more of right now is a little less consumption or contention and a little more creativity.”
There was no date on his blog, but I suspect it was before social distancing began and the fear of COVID-19 invaded all we do. To say that 2020 has ushered in an era of separation would be an understatement. How long will we have to ‘self-isolate’ before we can return to some semblance of ‘normalcy?’ I feel privileged to have known the world differently than today’s children and young people, and that I lived through the years before computers and television and travel to the moon.
I believe that play is not something that we are born knowing how to do; others need to show us how to free up our imaginations and prime the pump of creativity. Give a child a lump of clay and he or she will roll endless worms and round shapes, but show them what can be done, and they will spend a whole day happily creating animals and things that were always in their mind’s eye waiting to be rediscovered.
Jeff’s blog made me remember the first day of school vacation some time in the 1950s. I don’t know the exact year, but I was probably nine or ten. The long, hot summer stretched out in front of us, and we were excited to be allowed to stay out until dark.
We already knew how to play hopscotch, tag and jump rope, but that night, my Dad became the Pied Piper of 41st Street by teaching us ‘city kids how to play.’ Dad grew up in Brooklyn in the 1920s, when many ‘stoop games’ were invented and improvised upon. There were no fishing holes to swim in, no squirrels to shoot, no trees to climb. Counting cars on street corners was the most exciting thing to do!
He showed us Statues/Red-Light-Green-Light, Box Ball, Red-Rover (Let me come over), (I declare) War, and a game similar to Twister, but played on the large squares marked off on concrete sidewalks. Every few evenings, he taught us a new card game and things to do with bottle caps, popsicle sticks, Yo-Yo’s and handballs. I looked forward to his homecoming, and so did the other children in our little corner of the world. He was my hero.
Few people had air conditioning in the 1950s, at least not in our neighborhood of Sunnyside, New York. Adults would bring kitchen or folding chairs outside to escape heat trapped apartments and to sit in the small slices of shade created by tall buildings.
My mother was a champion paddleball player. We would have competitions to see who could hit the ball the longest, and she usually won. (She also excelled at Jacks and Pickup Sticks, board games like Checkers and my favorite, Fox & Hounds.) Tables were set up and young and old would play together.
Neighbors took turns bringing ice water to share. One might treat us to a plate of homemade cookies or a bottle of soda pop. Another might bring the day’s newspaper and section it out, or put a radio near an open window.
I don’t remember anyone smoking cigarettes or drinking beer or wine or even coffee, but that is not to say they didn’t. No one swore, but I recall sometimes hearing a woman say, “not in front of the children!” Decorum was strict.
It was a local, American version of a practice that has taken place in small towns and large city squares for hundreds of years when people of many generations come together for companionship and sociability. In warmer climates, walking after supper, sitting in parks, on the steps of buildings and around fountains was an everyday occurrence, and an extension of the Living Room.
The point was that the little babies, school children, young and old married couples, the singles, and the elderly formed a community of caring.
Of course, there was always the corner pub where a man could have a pint and talk about the old days with his friends. Women might sit together and catch up on local happenings while watching the children at play in the park. Church events required people to work together on planning, organizing, decorating and cooking. People with similar interests could usually find others to spend time with enjoying hobbies ranging from stamp collecting to armchair travel and bird watching. These things could be done alone, but it was much more fun in the company of others.
It seems to me that we have been practicing seclusion for a very long time — even before our lock downs began. Our singular lives have deprived us of a rich heritage which has nothing to do with being in a family or a circle of friends. We sit in front of screens, talk to them, play with them, write letters and exchange pictures with them, give virtual hugs and emoticon kisses.
So now, before the curve is flattened, while the numbers climb and our freedom is curtailed, we should consider how we’d like things to be when we emerge from our ‘caves.’ We’ve been discovering since March what’s really important to us, and learned new skills that we might not have tried if we didn’t face long stretches of time.
Some of the last children conceived before COVID-19 are being born now. What kind of world will they find? The Great Generation is thinning out and although Boomers are still here, our memories of how the world was before technology will fade and one day be lost, too.
Jeff Goins said in his blog that he “can’t help but wonder if what our world needs now is a little less consumption or contention and a little more creativity.”
We all need to think more creatively and come up with fresh, novel ways to ‘build our fort.’
This is the first blog of a series entitled, Growing Up in the 1950s. I welcome your comments and memories as I try to weave the past and the present to come up with ideas for a future we can all be proud of!
I first heard of an Australian by the name of Nick Vujicic at a Tony Robbins Seminar in 2003. Although I was impressed, all the other astounding things I learned that weekend somewhat diluted Nick’s message.
But I saw his photo this morning and vaguely remembered. Being the ‘retired researcher’ that I am, I went down the rabbit hole – or rabbit ‘warren’ as my friend pointed out. Little did I know the many tunnels and passages my investigation would uncover.
As I listened to Nick’s story on YouTube, I couldn’t help but compare his saga to every other person, myself included, who had ever complained about anything. I thought about my own struggles throughout life of inadequacy and esteem, and my fights with procrastination, self doubt and fear.
After learning about this amazing person, I am greatly humbled.
You see, in 1982, Nick Vujicic was born with a rare syndrome that resulted in him having – or rather NOT having – any arms or legs. Doctors couldn’t explain it. He had normal siblings, but all he was given were two little toes on something he calls his ‘chicken foot.’
That description may remind some of the 1989 movie,”My Left Foot,” about Christy Brown (b.1932-d.1981) starring Daniel Day Lewis. Both men had parents who supported their physical independence, however that is where the similarity ends. The cause of their infirmity and how they lived lives differ greatly from one another.
Christy became an artist, author, and abusive recluse.
On the other hand, Nick Vujicic has helped millions of people suffering not only with disabilities of the body but also handicaps of the mind and soul.
His family loved him and challenged him to keep trying. “Stop complaining. Figure it out!” his father would say. Because of their support and insistence on treating him like a normal boy, he became the only child in Australia to attend regular school in a wheelchair. That was just the beginning.
We all know how mean children can sometimes be, but I can only imagine how hard it must have been for him to go to class every day and to withstand the teasing and laughing and to watch with longing the other children with two arms and legs at play. The fears he must have had about never getting a job, having a family, being a burden to his family, and being alone for the rest of his life are not hard to imagine.
He tried to do his best, but understandably, he suffered despair and depression and often wished he was dead. At the age of only ten, he attempted to drown himself in the bathtub. What stopped him was the thought of the grief his act would have on his family.
His parents loved him without reserve and told him that God had a special purpose for his life. Nick wanted to believe them, but it was hard to accept what he learned in Sunday School: that he just had to pray. Praying would not grow arms and legs, and if God was a loving Father, how could he have allowed this to happen?
He would look into the mirror and say to himself, “There’s got to be at least one thing that’s good about me!” He wished people could see who he was on the inside.
Nick didn’t know it at that point, but his character was being annealed in the fire of his adversity.
His relationship with God grew, and he cried out that he needed God to help him heal his broken pieces. He began to understand that he was enough, just the way he was.
The person who faced him toward his purpose was a 61-year-old janitor who was cleaning his high school bathroom. “You’re going to be a speaker,” the older man told him.
It didn’t happen overnight. The old man egged him on and he resisted again and again. But Nick finally promised that he would speak in front of just six people. He did, and his transformation began. He learned that if God doesn’t give you a miracle, he can use you to be a miracle.
A harder lesson for him was that in addition to diligence and persistence, he needed to be patient and ‘wait upon the Lord.’ He discovered that, “You don’t know what beautiful things can come from your broken pieces until you give your broken pieces to the Lord.”
That became his mission: To show what God has done in his life, and to give hope where there is no hope.
I found happiness when I realized that as imperfect as I may be, I am the perfect Nick Vujicic. I am God’s creation, designed according to His plan for me.
Nick not only finished high school but earned a college degree in Commerce and a double major in accountancy and financial planning. After graduating, he became a motivational speaker and developed a charming and unusual form of humor that can make even the hardest-hearted men laugh and cry. He is engaging, and his story is so filled with positivity and hope that he has brought his message to over 3500 audiences in 70 countries, and spoken to kings and presidents and the poor and heartsick alike.
He’s published six books and is worth an estimated half-million dollars. He funds worthy projects. He is joyous, eloquent, accomplished and energetic. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and doesn’t think his pain is more painful than yours. As he says, “Brokenness is brokenness! Fear is the biggest disability of all and it will paralyze you more than being in a wheelchair!”
I watched several videos of him before beginning to write this blog. One was a speech given in Dubai, another when he was inspiring prisoners in a jail, and a third was as a guest speaker at Rock Church in San Diego. He tailors his expressions and metaphors to his audiences, but the bones of the message are the same.
What would I have done with my life if I had possessed just one tenth of that man’s focus and faith? What would I have accomplished, completed, overcome? What would I have done differently? His limbs were his limits, and he pushed through them. What are mine? Even now?
One video about him lists his hobbies as ‘unknown,’ as if only a person with hands and legs can have a hobby. But Nick spends his time swimming, fishing, surfing, boating, golfing, writing, painting, canoodling with his wife (love that word) and cuddling with his children. Because, yes, he married a beautiful woman and has two sons and a set of twin daughters. When he met his future wife, he realized he “didn’t need to hold her hand, [he] just needed to hold her heart.”