A Woman on Baseball

Standard

Droves of bodies filter through gates all looking as if they were once guilty, somehow now redeemed. Eyes darting here and there and back again akin to rats in a maze. It is unnerving, this part. Divisional to your core. But only so for a brief moment in time….and then, you are in. And thoughts of you are second fiddle.

You notice the cut lines of the turf and you can appreciate that despite suddenly craving a good, stone-ground mustard and a cold beer. No doubt an inhibition you drove down since winding the bratwurst, grilled onions and other accoutrements. There are no punchy cheerleaders. No golden, chestnut, raven or ruby tresses incriminating any view of the stadium. No hype. No bullshit. Just lights, smells, staunch forms with chiseled hiney’s swinging away in the dusky hours as if they never hit one before. This part too is unnerving but this is where I fell in love. Because I know they do hit it.

The pure, unabridged rivalry of not team against team but truly man against himself.

It was then I heard my first crack of the bat. That illuminating crack. Sending a jolt to my spinal column but assuring me I am yet alive. And in that moment you turn to see all the rats in tune with the synergy and reminiscent of their youths. And you no longer feel like a rat.

What a feeling.

What a game.

WP_001558

Ramblings on a Winter’s Day

Standard

Sometimes I feel like people know me all to well…and then there are days I think no one knows me at all and they might be surprised if they knew even a portion of the things I think about.

Having grown up in a rural, Northern town, there aren’t too many events, good or ill, that escape the rumor mill. I am guardedly optimistic this has improved since I left and when I consider going back, I wonder if it was ever really home for me.

Home has been a hard road for me.

For me, it’s been more about the people around me than the shell and I read in my counselor’s report once “at the end of the day, I think she feels very lonely in this world although she puts her best face forward”.

I cried when I read that and I’ve spent the remainder of my days thus far doing all I can to prove him wrong.

But I smiled the day my daughter and son were born and I try to take chances on people anyways. I spend a great deal of energy taking risks that a smart woman wouldn’t. My good friend was spot on when he told me “to hell with pride, girl – you threw that out the window a long time ago”.  All this on what little he knows. I cringe with every chance I take on people – especially when they let me down. Beat me until my eyes swell shut. When they are relentless in reminding me of my failures. When they die. Or just leave.

Not too many people in this life have impressed me. Sheltered me, cheered me on or proved me wrong. I find most people just don’t have the time nor the inclination to scratch beyond the surface. Too many of us are quick to judge and slow to understand. More than available when there is fun to be had but quick to bolt when down on your knees or things get difficult.

Trust is probably my second bugaboo for reasons I don’t want to talk about today.

I’m thinking either Alaska, the Cape or one of the Carolinas might suit me well but for now I’m going to put on some music and watch the birds at the feeder.

Beautiful Snow     WP_000547     WP_000101

A Great Compromise

Standard

     Knowing through philosophy that a dangerous idea is defined as “any object apprehended, conceived or thought of by the mind that is propelled by a stimulus of public and/or private nature with the ability to affect change and produce consequences; a manifestation both large in scope and extension, thus becoming objectified and resulting in a causal chain of events” (Payne, Dangerous Ideas – Introductory, 2014), one must concede that the automobile was, and continues to be, a dangerous idea. Not only is the auto iconic to American culture, it is no longer deemed a convenience but rather a necessity. How many of your personal acquaintances lack one? How many Americans realize high debt to own one? Grinding away, hopeful for a leisurely weekend where we might hop in our vehicles and flee urban sprawl. That is, after we make our hefty car payment. We are increasingly reliant on this tool despite its numerous consequences.

     To be credited as the “largest industrial idea of the twentieth century” (Cabadas, 2004), the automobile has transformed culture and nature. Prairies have given way to roads, country acres have given way to vertical integration, leaving mankind to evolve into a methodical, productive mechanism valued more for his output than his input or contribution to society.

     Our modern world, now scarred by atmospheric changes and holes in the stratosphere, has blatantly compromised air quality. Environmental legislation cannot undo what’s been done. Society persists in its pursuits of commercialism and industry and we will continue to suffer for it. The consequences abound: smog, fallout, poisonous gases, emissions, skin cancer, lung cancer and obesity (Sherman, 2004). We have become a country weaned, built and increasingly dependent on fossil fuels. Many of our health ailments can be attributed to the by-products of our reliance on these scarce resources. All for the sake of a tool of convenience: the automobile. “Not that smog was caused just by cars….power plants; smelters and factories contributed only half its precursors” (Sherman, 2004). Aside from being environmentally negligent, automakers tended to be arrogant regarding consumers. In the book “The People’s Tycoon” the author quotes Henry Ford as once stating that “Thinking of consumers as having definite incomes is only going back to the old days when the saturation point for goods was supposed to be fixed” (Watts, 2005). It goes on to proclaim that Ford often remarked how he was “deeply worried about consumer excess” (Watts, 2005). Reflecting back on the past century and the thick air surrounding us, it would appear that a few more of the “old days” might do us good.

     It is often remarked that with brilliance, comes madness. Perhaps Henry David Thoreau was more than a wise and witty American writer, perhaps he had a premonition. One must wonder if he knew what lay on the horizon for mankind when he penned in his 1845 journal that “men have become the tools of their tools” (Olson, 2006). The same rule applies with the automobile.     Originally conceived in 1885 by a German inventor named Carl Benz of Germany, the first gas powered automobile was not actually introduced to America until 1893 when the Duryea brothers ran their first automobile race in Chicago and won, thanks to an idea manifested by a Detroit railroad mechanic named Charles Brady (Cabadas, 2004). Brady’s idea would soon propel early twentieth century life into the modern, industrialized culture his friend Ford and others envisioned. Now increasingly dependent on the automobile for convenience, prestige and maneuverability we must contemplate to what end the automobile may take us.

     Once revered as the auto capital of the world, the city of Detroit is now officially “bankrupt”. A century ago, this same area bustled with united auto workers, tidy subdivisions and growing entrepreneurial investments. Now plagued with debt, record unemployment and boarded-up homes and shops vaguely reminiscent of the industrial revolution and all its glory, it is testimony to the causal chain of events generated from an idea intended as a tool for us, the consumer. Did we, philosophically speaking, sell our soul for the sake of mass production?

     First and foremost, we compromised our environment. Our world’s global climate changes have been proven to be direct causal chains of industrial fallout. In hindsight, we rally for green power and plant trees. This soothes our social conscience. Aside from this, we have forsaken desolate expanses for modes of maneuverability: the road. Here and there and everywhere, automobiles buzz along emitting toxic waste and hurrying us along to our next destination. Do we truly aspire that the joy in life lays not in the destination but the journey? Were that the case, would we hope for a different outcome to this iconic idea of man?

     It is prudent to note the errors of our ways and return to the days of old when mankind was beholden to no tool. The teachings of Thoreau forewarned us when he penned in Walden, “at present, in this vicinity, the best part of the land is not private property; the landscape is not owned, and the walker enjoys comparative freedom. But possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only, when fences shall be multiplied, and mantraps and other inventions invented to confine men to the public road, and walking over the surface of God’s earth shall be considered trespassing” (Dover Thrift Publications, 1993).

  Were his words a premonition or sheer brilliance? I shall take a walk and a deep breath as I ponder it.

Bibliography

Cabadas, J. P. (2004). River Rouge: Ford’s Industrial Colussus. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing Company.

Dover Thrift Publications. (1993). Henry David Thoreau: Civil Disobedience and Other Essays. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.

Olson, S. P. (2006). Henry David Thoreau: Naturalist Writer and Transcendentalist. New York, NY: Rosen Publishing Group.

Payne, D. (2014, January 24). Dangerous Ideas – Introductory. Petoskey, Michigan, United States of America.

Sherman, J. (2004). GASP! The Swift and Terrible Beauty of Air. Vermont: Shoemaker Hoard Publishing Group Inc.

Watts, S. (2005). The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

Girl Interrupted – Chapter One

Standard

Even as a child I was stubborn and loyal to a fault.

I was just a wee thing – a speck with a spark when I experienced my first real loss. He was my childhood friend, my playmate and my one true north. His name was Brian and he ran out into the road after a baseball in southern Michigan and was lost from this world forever. I was far too young to understand death, let alone navigate it with any grace. I continued to knock on his parents door wanting to know if Brian could play. This was uniquely hurtful as his parents were my parents’ best friends. His father, Wayne, was a Vietnam veteran and knew loss intimately. I continued to grow healthy and relatively carefree in the city and eventually Wayne and Mary moved away. As I grew, the memory of my friend got pushed to the vaults of my ever thinking brain but not so much for Wayne I suspect. He would forever mourn his lost son. Little did I know, I too would become acquainted with my share of losses.

If there is one certainty I have learned in the decades since my playmate passed on, it is that each heart knows its own time when it comes to grace under fire and the really hard stuff life throws in our paths.

Aside from my stubbornness, I have a tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve and this positions me fabulously for the taking. Like a lone apple hanging low on the branch, some cannot help but to reach up and pick it.  It is both a blessing and a curse.  Like most women, I want to nurture everyone, take care of everyone and save those who refuse to save themselves. I believe women succumb to this more than our male counterparts since we are weaned to nurture and sympathize. After all, Patsy Cline had a smashing billboard hit with her song “Stand By Your Man”. There is a reason for that beyond her incredible pipes, it was the message the song brought home to women and men about loyalty, what love is and what constitutes a good woman. This is what is expected. We are taught as young women by the women in our lives and society that you must not give up on the covenant of marriage. We are instructed that when our men are navigating rough waters we must “forgive and forget” and never go to bed angry.  It matters not what he may have done. We are told by our mothers, grandmothers and aunties that we are to support, comfort, console and elevate our men to their very best versions of themselves. It is pounded in our psyches that this is the behavior of a good woman, a loyal woman and a prized first mate. And please, do not misunderstand me. These are all honorable qualities in a wife, girlfriend or fiancee – so long as she receives the same from him. So long as they are equally loyal to one another and no one is hurt in recognition for such loyalties. And at what cost does she stay when this is not the case? Turn the other cheek? Forsake no other? This is the tricky part, ladies and gents. I am going to blaze a trail here and say to hell with Patsy’s words – it is due time we replace these antiquated lyrics with some Dylan, as “the times they are a changin’.”

With all things considered, both what we have been taught and that which we now know – it should surprise no one that twenty-five percent of all the women you know in your life will experience the devastation that is what society has coined domestic abuse and what I like to call a mother’s worst nightmare. One quarter of your grandmother’s, mothers, daughters, coworkers and friends will know this loss and destruction intimately.

Not too long ago, I gave a speech in my Developmental Psychology course that included this statistic and to bring my point home I had six of my female classmates stand at their desks in our cohort of twenty-four students. I instructed the remaining classmates to really look at these women. I asked the group:  Do they look abused? Do they appear weak in character? Do you know any of these women? Statistically, I told them, this is how many women just in this room will experience extreme violence in their lifetime. This is according to current statistics collected nationwide. Let me bring light to the fact that this statistic is challenged, as all statistics are, since it is based solely on reported abuse. I suspect that the real numbers are considerably higher than we may ever know.

Are you picturing these women in your mind? Do they appear weak? Stupid? Of course not. They look like any other woman you pass on the street or know yet at the water cooler or when their backs are turned this is what is often said of them. Why is it the case that these same supporters of hers, and far too many professionals in her life continue to haunt her with the proverbial question we all want to know and ask:  “Why didn’t you just leave?”

It isn’t that simple for her. It is that simple to you. If it were always that easy, she would. I have personally sat in many support group meetings and watched other victims roll their eyes, shake their heads and cry when discussing how many assume it is just that easy all the time. It’s a complex answer for victims and their families. Any credible advocate, counselor, police officer, judge, lawyer or case worker should probe into this reality much deeper as this is where the truth lies and where you may be able to save her. Judge her and you will lose her. She will grow disgusted with the support she has searched out and she will likely be included in next year’s statistics. She will run back to the very life she fled from. After all, she has taken the greatest risk coming to you in the first place. She is braver than either of you realize. It isn’t love which keeps her heading back to him because a woman who is beaten routinely DOES NOT love their abuser.  More correctly, she  likely  loathes and deeply resents her abuser. She returns to him as he is her one true constant in a world ripped apart. Nor does she remain with him out of loyalty. She knows she needs to get out. He will go above and beyond to make certain she cannot but we’ll delve into that much later. It certainly isn’t that she doesn’t know any better. Victims are often incredibly intelligent, great communicators and hard-working. They are also good mothers and protectors. It isn’t easy navigating a home in constant turmoil. It actually takes a pretty tough cookie.  Advocating for her to overcome her unique obstacles that are still preventing her from leaving her abuser is where work should begin with victims. Cautious advocates lose the articulation of thoughts such as the degrading question, “Why didn’t you just leave?”  They focus on building her up. She did not come to you to be judged, scolded or misunderstood. You will only win her trust by understanding how excruciating  it was for her to come to you in the first place, and you will only keep her trust by implementing affirming statements and probing deeper into the depths and of her unique situation. It is unique, whether we as a society understand it or not. It will continue to persist as a social dysfunction whether we want to talk about it or not.  Working towards assisting victims in their independence, education, confidence, finances and developing an unshakable support system is where we will find success as a society in affecting true change in this global epidemic.

I am just one woman hoping to affect such change. I do not know your story or her story but I can and will share mine. My hope is that someone out there reads this and it helps. Even if it is in the smallest of ways ….just reading it and relating and knowing that someone does understand, that someone out there on the world wide web has some honest experience with that. Then I have stayed the course, achieved my goal, and shed some light on something perhaps you only thought you understood.

With this said, I hope you will read on. This is but the first chapter of a long and intimate journey of losses and wins.

The Gatekeeper

Standard

I have been privy to one death in my lifetime. It was a good death.

Autumn in the North is both willful and wild. The apples clung heavy on the trees. My second set of bluebird babies had come and flown from their nesting box on the garden fence and my morning glories hung on for dear life. One more gust would waste them all. Autumn is typically my favorite time of the year but I looked out over the garden from my rear deck with a heavy heart this time around.

I had been asked by my family to speak at my Grandmother’s funeral. For a woman who rarely loses her words, I was mulling over this in my mind and struggling to find the right words to honor her as I saw fit.

How is it that we measure a life well-lived? Is it in the years? Age ninety-five is a good run. Is it in our work or the material returns or statuses we may or may not acquire throughout our lives? Maybe it’s family or what we are able to give back to our communities. This is a thought provoking question for each of us. Surely our individual answers to that question will vary, and they should. We are all uniquely different in our pursuits and passions.

Some might even say that the measure of a good life can be found in the long lines waiting their turn to record their names in “the book” at the funeral home. Their evidence of attendance. I sat in a corner watching each attendee filter in and wondered to myself, “are the dead aware of their guests?” I couldn’t say. Then I thought, “do the living really care who is here and who is not?” I thought not as they would clearly rather be anywhere else but shaking hands here and sharing idle chit chat at such an intimate time for families.

She had not eaten for eleven days. This once robust woman now tucked away in extended care in her ponytails and pink polish. She had long ago forgotten my name due to the Alzheimer’s but I visited regardless – and as torturous as this is for the families of dementia patients, at the very least I knew that she knew someone visited her today. I hoped this brought her some solace despite my feelings of invading her space, her safe zone and sense of normalcy…as little as that space may be.

Unlike me, the hospice nurse is accustomed to such days. She graciously prepped us and kept us abridge of every change in her petite frame. The labored breathing, the mottling of extremities and the sudden energetic burst often witnessed prior to death were all explained in detail.

Death humbles us quickly. Our moral compasses are rearranged. We are carefully reminded that we are but a speck and regardless of individual religious beliefs, it is affirming as well.

To turn back the sheets and see one of the best pairs of legs in the county gradually manifesting into a deep plum color is a lesson in humility that each heart will learn in it’s own time. It is not a lesson one forgets.

She had perked up on the twelfth day and wanted to go outside and sit in the garden area. While one twin daughter sat with her there, the other spoke with the hospice nurse just outside the door. A conversation I’ll not forget either.

“They often do this…have a burst of energy.” She bent her knees slightly to look into my mother’s eyes.

“You need to tell her it is okay, Nancy.” The nurses words were blows. “You need to assure her that you will be okay. That you love her and although you will miss her, it is time she visits with the other family members now and it is okay to leave. You need to give her your assurance.” Her voice was solemn but clear.

“I can’t….” my mother responded.

“You must. Sometimes it helps that they know it is okay to go now. They often hold on for weeks looking for this assurance from family. I will help you if you’d like.” The nurse walked back into the room with my mother where they had settled my grandmother back into bed.

I sat in the corner sipping my coffee and staring out the window as clergy performed her last rights. He read her favorite Bible verses, including the twenty-third Psalm.

I am not a believer of many things and even less so in those unseen. Still, on this day I witnessed something I will carry with me to my grave and am sharing as it imprinted itself on my soul and psyche for the remainder of my life.

As the minister read, a single tear ran down my grandmother’s face and her clear blue eyes perked up as she stared at the foot of her bed.

“I have been looking for you. Just where have you been? I never stopped looking for you.” Clearly, she was scolding someone as she reached out her arm. Mind you, she had not spoken for weeks and yet this she pronounced clear as a bell just as she left this world.

I have to believe I know who she was scolding.

Once a week for years I visited and the floor nurses had often said she wandered the halls looking for my grandfather who passed before her there. Her husband of sixty-four years. She would wheel her chair down to his old room, poking her head in the door and often called out his name hopes of a response.

Being privy to this death gave me all the assurance of heaven I ever needed.

Days later I spoke at her funeral without as heavy of a heart. I talked about canned peaches and pretty sheets and of a grandmother who single-handedly taught me the most important lesson I will ever learn even as she lay dying: faith.

My grandmother was an avid gardener as well, and there have been numerous strange moments when in my gardens where I swear I smell her perfume or sense her presence there. I do not know why it is she visits me there or what it is she sees…perhaps some reassurance that we are okay. Despite what I do not know, I am certain that she is pleased and in good hands.