Tuesday, February 16, 2021

measure

 "Measure" is a poem about my true love, Mario, and an event that actually happened.


At the Cairo Hospital...looking at my true love.


February is a short month, when
couples choose to measure love
in the strangest ways:
“He took me to that waterfront 
restaurant for a candle-lit dinner...
... gave me long stemmed roses, 
 “...a two-carat diamond..."
 When he proposed... 
We made love in front of a roaring fire...
Measures of love, compared,
with spurred talons,
greased feathers,

I don't want to play.
Why measure love that way? 

My true love doesn't like the waterfront,
(I once ordered Maine lobster at market price), 
would never buy diamonds, not after seeing how mines
split families, broke men, abused their labor force.
He gives me potted, living roses;
("I'm not gonna fall for those overpriced, 
cellophaned roses, sentenced to death!")
His idea of a roaring fire is at the end of a good cigar.
But... he puts the seat down, replaces light bulbs,
and has strong arms. 

These arms 
once supported me,
all of my dead weight, as I
tried to act normal, plodding
up stairs in Cairo—uneven stone
steps in front of a hospital—littered
with candy wrappers. Women in black
wool hijabs looked at me, intense eyes 
begging me not to touch them, their hands 
tucked underneath their dresses, not outstretched,
Were they afraid of death? Did they think I was cursed?
leaned away from my shadow as we passed them, with his
arms around me, lifting me just enough for my steps to feel lighter. 
I couldn't help seeing the women, with wide eyes, filled with terror and 
maybe something else. They made made me believe I was dying.

Weak from blood loss, no fluid would stay, 
no water in my eyes or my body, not even blood. 
It took everything I had to hold on to my true love, 
whose primal scent of perspiration, one hand clasped 
over mine, holding me up .
We stepped up so many stone steps, the uneven path 
between us and the surgeon. I had to stop twice, 
and when I cried, the women hid their faces. 
We had to could we? stop the bleeding.


He kept whispering: “A few more steps, just
a few more steps…” And I took one up, and then two,
and neither of us knew the path, the hospital, the country,
but he whispered, "Just a few more steps," anyway.
I pleaded to stop and lie down. He shook his head,
and didn't feel sorry for me, and the hospital was there, 
at the end of the steps, just like he said it would be.

My measure of romance will always be this:
The strength of his arms and his whispers.
When the self is a weak, bleeding, staggering
thing, and the world is a bleak place with
long, stony paths, all uneven, he steadies me.
Even more, he believes I can do it and tells me,
and I get there with him, one step at a time.
He knows my pain and walks beside me
anyway.

On steps like these,
too weak and bloodless 
to stop crying, having nothing 
left to give, he asks me for nothing
and expects nothing. He never leaves.
This is the measure of my true love’s heart.


Friday, February 12, 2021

tigerdragon

 



Chinese Tiger Versus Dragon
by Heatherbeast



This afternoon I took Pippi out to her favorite Chinese restaurant for Chinese New Year. I wanted to celebrate with her on one of her rare days off.   Even with her three-year-old twin boys in tow, I knew it would be a special mother-daughter luncheon.

I was hoping it would be like the old days.

Our family used to live next to Chinatown. Jose and I still laugh, wondering how we raised five kids in that  house in such a questionable area. Penelope was our baby, and our only girl. The boys called her Pippi. When all the boys were in school, we would run the errands together. I'd sometimes take her shopping and then out to eat at one of the authentic restaurants for which Chinatown was so famous. Pippi learned how to use chopsticks when she was five. Her favorite thing was showing off to her father and brothers, who still preferred forks.

“Did you and Mama eat in Chinatown again?” Jose would ask her, as Pippi dexterously used her bamboo sticks to pick up rice and veggies from her bowl. I’d wink at her, as if our trips were secret and special.  In our large family, lunch dates became times of female bonding. 

“Why does she always get to go with you?” Roberto, my youngest son, asked one night. Like his brothers, he never got to have shopping trips and lunch with me.

“Because I’m Chinese, and you're not!” she answered. Everyone laughed. Pippi had my grandmother's almond shaped eyes, my straight black hair, and rosy apple-cheeks, like a painting. "God made me Chinese, and all of you are Mexican. Why do you think I'm the only one who can use chopsticks?"

We never corrected Pippa's misconception, thinking it was cute. Part of me thought it did no harm, since she did anything to distinguish herself from among her brothers. It didn't take long before my thinking backfired.

The next week, Jose joined Pippa and I for lunch at Happy Dragon, one of our favorite restaurants.  Mrs. Lee, our favorite seating hostess, looked at Jose suspiciously when she first met him.

"I thought you were married to an Asian man," she said, pointing to Pippa. "Because of your daughter." 

"We're Mexican," I said. "In some regions of Mexico, the people sometimes have the same physical characteristics as Asians."

"Uh-huh," Mrs. Lee said, handing us our menus. I could tell she didn't trust my explanation.

"I am Chinese, Mama!" Pippa said, loudly. Mrs. Lee looked at her and smiled. As I tried to laugh and explain this outburst, Pippa shouted. "Tell her the truth! Tell the truth about our family!"

 I avoided Happy Dragon after that. 

Pippa grew, and her eyes became her trademark. They were framed with long lashes, and .  Everywhere we went, Pippi was admired.  I wasn’t ready for her adolescence, which came too quickly. It was like Pippa was body-snatched in the middle of the night and replaced with someone who wanted to fight about everything.

She never wanted to eat what I made for dinner. She never wanted to sleep or study. She suddenly withheld her affection. She was convinced I nagged and pushed her too hard. I probably did. In high school, she was an honor student and was in band, playing the flute.  One day after school I made the mistake of suggesting she branch out into different areas.  The remark brought a tearful eruption.

“I’ll never be good enough for you,” she screamed. 

“Why do you say that?  Such drama!  All I’m saying is…”

“I do my best and my best isn’t good enough for you.”

“You will always be good enough for me!”  Before I could clarify my words, she was running down the hall and then slamming her door.

What happened to my daughter?  Would I ever see my little girl again?  The one who loved me and knew I loved her?

Today we had lunch together and our conversation was like the careful, polite exchanges of two people who have only just met each other.  We have learned to be civil with each other so we don’t fight.

“That was good,”  I say, as we finish.

“Grandma,” Jacob asks me, looking at the ceiling.  “What is your favorite thing here?”

“Besides you two?” I joke, looking between him and Josh.  “I think it is….”

“Grandma’s favorite is the eggroll, always.” Pippa smiles, answering for me.  The boys agree that it’s their favorite, too.  I don’t have the heart to tell them that their Mom is wrong.  My favorite is the noodles without dressing.  It is a traditional Chinese favorite that Pippi and I have ordered for years. 

“Mommy, can we play in the kids area now?” Josh asks his mother.  Jacob waits closely behind him for her answer.

“I guess…”

“Thank you!”  They sing in unison and run toward the slides and swings that flank the restaurant. 

“Thanks for lunch, Mom,” Pippa yawns.   I know it’s been a busy week for her.  She and her husband, Greg,  have just landed a big account in their business and they’ve both been working a lot of hours. 

“When are you going to slow down?”

My daughter rolls her eyes.  “Don’t start, Mom.”

“You have twin boys, you know.”

“Really, do I?  Because I forgot!”

I let it drop and there’s a bit of silence as she reaches in her purse for her phone.  After checking her  messages our waitress comes over and picks up the check.


“You want to take with you?” She points at the last egg roll, a juicy temptation left between us.


“Not for me,” I say, raising my eyebrows at Pippi.  She shakes her head and the waitress smiles and walks off with the leather check-holder with the cash inside.  I forget to tell her to keep the change before she walks off.

“The last eggroll,” Pippi smiles as she texts. “You know you’ve been on a diet as long as I can remember?  Why don’t you ever give yourself a treat?”

The remark stings and she can tell.

“Really?” she says. “That offends you?  Admit it, you’re always on a diet.”

“I guess,”  I start to feel her claws against my neck. I feel trapped, unable to say the right thing.   

“Why can’t I say anything to you anymore?”

“You can,” I begin. I want to tell her that I feel the same way. I can't say anything to her anymore without offending. Even those words seem barbed, so I say nothin.


“Whatever,” she says. She finishes her text and puts her phone down on the table. I can tell she feels misunderstood.  I remember a younger version of the same face smiling broadly at me, picking up her bamboo chopsticks.

“Pippi, let’s not fight,” I say. "We see each other so rarely these days. Let's not waste a day with a fight.

“You know, Mom,” she says, “every time I’m with you I feel like a child!  You’re the only one who still calls me Pippi! My brothers, Dad, my husband, my friends? They all call me Penelope, which is my adult name!”

Silence descends again. I'm looking at the placemat in front of me, a paper sheet with a circle in the middle. The Chinese Zodiak is explained in the middle. Pippi sighs. I wonder when we became so distant. How many mothers and daughters, who really do love each other, feel misunderstood or disrespected in their relationship?  I want to ask her opinion, but I don’t know how. Instead, I ask her a simple question.

“You want me to call you Penelope?”

“Yes,” she says.

“Alright, I will.”

“I’ve heard that before,” she says. I look up at her, and she's watching the boys. They're at the waterfall, an elaborate fish and turtle pond in the middle of the restaurant. A small children's slide and swing set is next to it. 

“Do you want some help getting the boys together?” I ask.  “I can load one of them in their car seats…”

“No, they’re having fun,” she says. “Can we just sit here and have some tea?” 

I nervously agree. “Alright, I guess.”  I want to add: “BUT let’s not start picking each other apart, okay?” but I don’t. 

The waitress returns with our change and I tell her to keep it. 

“Thank you,” she says, and smiles. 

“Can we still order some tea?” I ask.

“Actually,” Pippi interjects, smiling broadly. “Since tea comes with our meal, and we didn't have it, can we just have a pot of tea now?”

“Yes, yes,” the waitress says. “Of course. Oolong tea or Jasmine ?”

As I say Oolong, Pippi says Jasmine. We look at each other and smile. I start to defer her wishes, but the waitress laughs.

“I'll bring you green tea?” she suggests. “Green tea is made with the fresh leaf and costs a little bit more but I won’t charge you.”

I look at Pippi, who smiles and nods.  As our waitress walks away, and I think of what Pippi has just said.  Do I really treat her like a child?  Do I really not listen?  

In the ten years she has been away from home, she's become a mother and a wife and a business owner.  In very many ways she’ll always be my little girl.

“What are you thinking?” she asks, suspiciously.

“Nothing, really.”

“What is it?”

“Do you really think I don’t listen to you?”

“Oh, yeah,” Pippi  laughs, as if this is an understatement.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” she says.  “Just listen to me.”

I have to swallow hard to accept her words.  I wonder if she knows how much her words hurt.  

“Here's, your tea!”  The waitress lays clean placemats before us and then white cups with no handles.  In the middle of the table she places a pot of green tea.  Pippi lifts the lid and decides it needs to sit awhile. 

“I’m just gonna check on the boys,” she says, leaving her seat. I sigh, looking down at my placemat. The Chinese Zodiac calendar gives an image of each animal, what year it corresponds to, and a brief description of people born under the sign. 

According to the chart, I am a tiger: a creative individual who is optimistic, resilient, and influential.  It also says I am sensitive and prone to getting my feeling hurt too easily.  Am I?

I quickly scan the chart to find Pippi. It says she's a dragon.  It reads: “Proud, strong, and self-assured, Dragons don’t have to ask for things, they demand them. They can be dictatorial and inflexible in their associations with others, but at the same time be the warmest, most gentle individuals you may meet.”  I smile and look around for Pippi, my Penelope, just to show her. 

She's walking toward me, Joshua following her closely.  “I’m sorry, Mom. I’m going to have to take a rain check on the tea, Josh wet his pants.”  I can tell she frustrated and I start looking around for Jacob, who comes running to her in tears. 

“Why do we have to go?” he is crying.  “Josh wet his pants, not me!”  His sobs echo through the restaurant as his mother tries to calm him. Josh, on the other hand, is ready to leave. 

“Bye, Grandma,” he says, almost too quickly. 

“Is there anything I can do?” I ask Pippi. 

“No, nothing.”

I pick up the placemat and follow her as she marches out to the parking lot. The waitress watches us, nonplussed, as we've left the teapot untouched on the table. I follow her to her car, even though Jacob is crying. He still doesn’t want to leave. Josh jumps into the car and buckles himself into his own carseat.

“Pip… Penelope, do you want to take this placemat home?” I ask. She turns around, and her face is like mine, or like mine was twenty years ago, when I was trying to corral the kids into the car. I numbly lift up the paper placemat, and it flaps in the cold wind. "I thought the kids might like to see it. It's Chinese New Year, after all. I was just reading these descriptions of the dragon and tiger…”  I try to show her twhat I'm talking about, but she looks at me like I've lost my mind.  

“Really, Mom?” she says. She clicks Jacob's car seat buckle and shuts his door.  “Are you kidding me?  Remember how you used to make the waitresses take that shit off the table? Because it conflicted with out beliefs? You didn’t want me being deceived by the Chinese Zodiac? All that stuff  you used to say, and it was so embarrassing. Remember?”

Her voice is agitated. It's drowned out only by Jacob's cries. I suddenly recognize my insensitivity. 

“Sorry, honey,” I say.  “I was just trying to lighten the mood, I guess.”

“Yeah, well, she says, fumbling with her keys. “I can’t understand you, sometimes.  I mean, sometimes I wonder why you used to be so… ”

She looks like she's trying to be careful with her words. I really want to know what I used to be, something that might explain why we're not friends.

“So what?”

“Never mind. Thanks for lunch.”

She gives me an obligatory hug and gets into the car. I blow the boys kisses; they manage a weak wave back. Pippi drives off, leaving me in the parking lot, filled with disappointment, and waving at the taillights of her Rav4 . 

When I return home, I sit at my computer, and start editing a piece for the Sun-Times that is due in eight hours. Instead of giving it my full attention, my mind drifts back to the lunch with my daughter. I start to get tears in my eyes. I decide to draft an email to her. Jose has asked me not to send Pippi emails until he's read them first. I resolve to save it as a draft for him to read later. 

Dear Penelope,

I can’t stop thinking of you. 

You are my daughter, the beautiful blessing that God decided to give me.  Today as we left the restaurant, I wanted to grab you and hold you and scream “I love you! How can I help you receive my love?” Instead, I said nothing and just waved to you like you were any other person I have in my life.
But you’re not. 

You’re not like any other person I have in my life.  You are the one who is so close to me that you can hear me purr or growl before the rest of the world does. You can see right through the wall I've built and know me for who I really am. For all the years we have struggled, we have also understood each other. 

I thought it would be fun to go out on Chinese New Year for the same reason I thought it would be fun to read you what the placemats said about the tiger (me) and the dragon (you).  I don’t put much belief in that stuff, as you inferred earlier, but I thought it brought comic relief to all of the tension we were having at lunch. 

The truth is, every mother and daughter does this dance that we do.  We trade places in frustration, belief, hope and anger.  We sometimes believe (falsely) that we don’t understand one another.  We think we can’t see the other, but the truth is we do. I should say that I want to understand you; I want to know you; I want to love and be loved by you. 

Isn’t that better than thinking we already know each other? 

I love you and I’m proud of you.

Mom

Instead of saving it to a draft, I hit send.

When Jose comes home, I show him the letter and he rubs his forehead. 

“I thought we agreed you wouldn't send letters to Penelope without showing me first?” 

I smile, sheepishly. Then I ask him when he stopped calling her Pippi and started calling her Penelope. He tells me he started when she asked him to, and that was when she was twelve years old. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

MLK

We Americans worship heroes we barely know.  We follow athletes because of their sports statistics rather than their character or what they stand for.  We elect presidents because they can argue persuasively in debates, even when we don’t know much about their lives or lifestyles.


Martin Luther King is an exception.  He is an American hero who wanted to be known.  He had incredible family roots and beliefs, which he communicated powerfully through the written and spoken word.  While he was known for his letters and speeches, there is still enough about him that remains a mystery.  

Today, I celebrate his birthday by re-publishing this blog.  These are surprising bits of trivia about Martin Luther King that I hope you enjoy:


1.  Martin Luther King was not his real name.

Michael was born in Atlanta in 1929, named after his father, Michael Sr. When he was only two years old, Michael Jr. (our beloved MLK) went with his family to Europe. Michael Senior was so profoundly affected by the person of Martin Luther, the great reformer,  that upon his return to the States changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr.  and his son’s to Martin Luther King, Jr.


2.  He came from a powerful and spiritual family.

His father and mother were both ordained ministers. Educated and respected leaders in the Atlanta community, the family lived with his maternal grandparents, the Reverend and Mrs. A.D. Williams.  

While the Kings were known for their virtue, they were also seen as radicals, embracing not only racial, but gender equality. At this point in time, the Christian church preached the submission of women (not much has changed in some churches). The King men were staunch believers in the power of Jesus Christ and the Bible and believed in living according to the word of God, which teaches nothing less.  They led Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, right down the street from their home. 


3.  His call to stand up for the civil rights of a nation started in childhood.

Martin Jr. grew up in a racially segregated world. It really didn’t matter that his parents were educated; the American south had enforced laws about the separation of blacks and whites. 

Etched clearly in King’s memory was  a story of his family's outing to buy new shoes. Excited at the prospect, Martin entered the store with his family, only to be immediately ushered to the back exit. 

“No coloreds.” The store owner said.  The Kings knew this--they weren't ignorant of the segregation--and the elder Kings called these "daily protests" against segregation. They regularly shopped at "white only" stores just so the owners would be forced to confront their own racist policies. 

Martin learned on that day that blacks were not allowed in most restaurants, on public beaches or swimming pools.  They couldn’t drink from the same water fountains as white people and couldn’t use the same toilets. His father's daily protests started a fire in Martin's heart.  This shoe-store event began to shape King's passionate crusade for righteousness.


4.  He graduated high school at 15. 

MLK skipped both 9th and 12th grades (some historians have him skipping the 11th), and enrolled in Morehouse College, a prestigious private, all-male, black university in Atlanta. He graduated with a Bachelors degree in sociology at age 19. 


5.  He thought his wife was brave for taking him on.

After Morehouse, King completed seminary and was introduced to Coretta Scott, a woman whose wit and vigor was an incredible match for his. 

As much as Martin is celebrated, Corrie (what he called her) was as well.  A brilliant thinker, gorgeous in physical appearance and social graces, Coretta was also known for her voice: a mezzo-soprano.  Her voice, Martin said later, was angelic and worshipful. 

On the night they wed, the newlyweds were denied entrance to their hotel (supposedly booked knowing it was a whites-only place).  The couple decided to spend their wedding night at a Black-owned funeral home.  It was only the beginning of many stands for justice they took together.



6.  He’s called “Dr. Martin Luther King” because he was a PhD.  This title was not honorary.

After marriage, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, when he was twenty-five years old.  He then began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Ph. D  in 1955. 

He was just getting started.


7.  Rosa sat down and Martin stood up - in that order.

On a December,1955 evening in Montgomery, Rosa Parks rode the bus home seated in the fifth row, which was permissible.  It was, after all, the first row of the "colored section".

It was standard practice that when the bus became full, the seats nearer the front were given to white passengers.  This happened and the bus driver asked Parks and three other African-Americans seated nearby to move: “Move y'all, I want those two seats!"

Three riders complied, but Parks did not.

The bus driver threatened to have her arrested, and Ms. Parks said he had every freedom to do that.  She wasn’t breaking any written law; she was just uppity and he called her bluff. 

Upon hearing of the arrest, King and his colleague (Ralph Abernathy) organized a city-wide boycott intended to cripple the financial legs of the bus companies.  A staunch devotee of nonviolence, the men were adamant that no one should lose their cool.

Martin wrote to the city with the organized plan of protest: Black passengers should be treated with courtesy. Seating should be allotted on a first-come-first-serve basis, with white passengers sitting from front to back and black passengers sitting from back to front. Negro drivers should drive routes that primarily serviced Negroes.

On Monday, December 5, 1955 the boycott went into effect – it was the beginning of organized non-violent protests across the south.  Martin was at the forefront of a revolution. 


8.  He was a man determined to be seen and heard.

From 1957 until his death in 1968, King gave over 2,500 speeches; he traveled more than 6 million miles; and  he wrote five books and countless articles published in newspapers and magazines.
Upon seeing him deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, John F. Kennedy, amazed and open-mouthed, turned to his chief of staff and said, “Damn, he’s good!”

My favorite writing of his (besides the PERFECT “I have a Dream” speech) is the letter he wrote from an Alabama jail to the surrounding clergymen.  This portion resonates the most in my soul:
“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience…”

9.  MLK set his face towards Jerusalem.

Martin had two heroes:  Jesus Christ and Martin Luther.  Both men were killed in the middle of their ministry, for their beliefs.   Martin seemed to recognize the same would be true for him.

After many, many death threats and his own people warning him to “go underground for awhile” Martin eventually made peace with the destiny he had – to die for the cause worth dying for.  On April 3, 1968 (the day before he was assassinated), he preached at the at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee:

“Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about a thing. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”


10.  Martin’s heart betrayed a life lived at full speed.

King was assassinated in Memphis when he was 39, after two other attempts on his life.  The details of the assassination are sketchy, but all evidence shows it was a conspiracy, not the act of a lone gunman.

 At the hospital, one of the attending doctors noted during his autopsy that King “had the heart of a 60-year-old."  A heart that was tired; overworked and stressed – beating in the man that championed respect and nonviolence.


Martin, we hardly knew ye…





Tuesday, December 29, 2020

33



Today, Mario and I have been married for 33 years, it's our Jesus year, so to speak. Every year, I write a blog about our marriage, and I ask Mario what I should write about. Today, when I asked, he leaned against the door frame and thought.

“Wow,” he said. “It’s been a tough year. Maybe you should write about endurance.”

I nodded, and began.

In the old days, I swear this would have felt like a slap in the face. If I ask Mario what especially stands out in our marriage, I'm not really wanting to hear how both of us are good at sticking it out. This year is different. This year, 2020, I appreciate him saying this. 

First of all, most of you know what I’m talking about when I write about this year. Most who are reading are family and friends, and most have partners or romantic relationships. You know what this year has been like, right? It’s been tough for all of us. It’s been a year of quarantine, diminished salaries, being trapped in closed spaces together. You know...

This year, on top of all this COVID quarantine stuff, Mario and I had major life changes which took place inside our family.  Where family is concerned, I don’t like change. I understand how family stuff can be emotionally supercharged, so I like it to remain predictably emotionally supercharged. This year has been filled with so many family changes, that it’s caused disturbing outbursts, challenges, discussions, and decisions. It’s sucked a lot of life out of me.

Usually, Mario and I agree about the important stuff, but this year? We felt like Oscar and Felix, Samson and Delilah, MaryMatalin and James Carville.

I love Mario and Janet. Mario and Janet disagree on a boatload of issues, but are genuinely together on critical ones, and always remain each other’s best friend.  This year? Challenged that. The issue of family is tender, and if we don’t agree on the direction we’re supposed to take, we fight. We’ve fought a lot this year. 

A week ago, Mario and I were in one of these terrible fights. It was at the point of a tailspin, telling the other something like, “If only you would listen, then you’d understand...” or something like that. I don’t remember the specifics, but I do remember being exhausted.

There comes a time in most couple’s lives when they get tired of fighting about the same thing, over and over again. This exhaustion sometimes supersedes what they’re fighting about. The disagreement gets old, and the mountain looks familiar, blah, blah, blah... and they arrive at the inevitable fork in the road, where they have to ask themselves: “Do I pursue this later?” or “Do I drop it?”

(I have to give a disclaimer here—I’ve said this before—this doesn’t apply to addictions. Addictions are equivalent to ACID on a relationship. Relationships can’t survive addictions unless the addict gets help).

No one gets to the fork in the road unless they are fighting. No one arrives at this fork in the road unless they’ve traveled the lonely road of disagreement with their partner. We usually arrive at the fork fatigued, stinky, gross, and angry. Sometimes the fork is complicated, with more than two ways to end it. Either way, the fork in the road involves surrender.

This year, Mario and I have had to agree to compromise a lot. In order to move on, couples surrender their way and make a deal that's acceptable to both, if they expect to remain friends. Some of us take longer to reach a compromise. 

Mario and I are accomplished swordfighters by this time in our marriage—we’ve even learned how to duel without drawing blood—and no one would ever guess we were capable of inflicting such emotional wounds on one another. I’m ashamed to say this, but we’ve survived a lot of wounds this year. Tonight, as I type this, I promise you, that we have survived the battles, the wounds, the surrenders, because we share a deep love for one another and a shared faith. At the end of day, I have to remember that this man is the best guy I know—the man who understands me like no other human on the planet.

So, why would I ever battle with him, you may ask? It’s because I’m human and I like being right. Sometimes I wish everyone in the whole damn world would listen to me, and just do what I say. If they would, things would work a lot better. Sure, some people disagree with me, but those people are idiots.  When my husband numbers himself with the idiots, my happiness is suddenly threatened, and I hate it when my happiness is threatened. If there’s change happening all around me, I object—loudly. I don’t like change unless I orchestrate it.

That last paragraph? I hope it made you laugh...even if it feels true. We humans are selfish beings by nature, and usually we're good at masking this, until our happiness is threatened.

This year, the man who is my husband, my favorite human being in the whole world, disagreed with me more than he normally does, because he has the inconvenient job of bringing me back to earth and showing me how change is inevitable. He is the one who shows me our bank balance, and reminds me to stay on a budget. He encourages me to tell the truth, but with less brutal language. He explains how our children are adults, and need our support even when we disagree with their decisions. Mario brings me to the window of a reality that I often ignore, and encourages me to see that I’m not an obstacle to change—it will happen anyway.

This year I’ve disagreed with Mario more than I normally do, because I have the inconvenient job of reminding him that some things in our family are too important to lose, and there are some hills I am willing to defend with my life. Sometimes, when I’m grieving hard, I want him to grieve with me, and this year the grieving has even threatened his happiness. The explosive life and joy I bring to our marriage also comes with occasional dips into depression. I feel things strongly, love people with my whole heart, and usually can't hide what I'm thinking. I ask Mario to dream higher things for us, believe the best about most people, and encourage a life of creating beauty. I bring warmth and color and life, and Mario values these things so much that he accepts the cost. Thank God.

Mario and I both know we’re still together only because of God. Even the best lovers, the best friends, the best team can be split apart by a world that champions self-promotion and individualism. As different as we are, Mario and I have a shared faith, which inspires love, which in turn inspires life, which inspires others, and so on. Anything that’s good in us as people or as a couple has been forged by a refining fire that we know is God.


When Mario and I trained for the only marathon we ever ran together, a seasoned veteran told us, “You can split the race into two parts: the first twenty miles, and the last six.” Not until you run a marathon do you realize that an endurance race is toughest near the end. The body isn’t built to run long distances all the time. The best runners have a training schedule and work up to the distance—this is called endurance training. It's both brutal and critical.

Mario and I have endured so much this year, and we’re still friends. We're still lovers. We still see each other as life-partners. I am more determined, in our thirty-third year of our marriage, to love him and respect him. 

This year has been tough, but we’re tougher. 


Monday, December 28, 2020

58

 




Today I’m 58, and I will love this year.

That’s how I’ve started every one of my birthday blogs, including the one I wrote last year. Who would have known that 2020 was waiting to pounce, that COVID19 was winding up and getting ready to take us down.  For my 57th year picture, I sat behind my desk, smiling and clueless, ready for another good year. Today, I type this blog in a state of exhaustion. My family had a beautiful holiday season, albeit pain-filled, including a threat of exposure. I’m guessing ours was a lot like everyone’s holiday season.

This year, we’ve all gone through the same time of shared isolation. We’ve seen each other on Zoom, covered our mouths and noses with cloth masks, and continued to use social media like everything was normal. Halfway around the world, friends wrote to me from lockdown, just like ours.

This year, I went to COVID funerals, including my beloved Auntie Molly’s. I went to COVID weddings, including my niece, Selena. I celebrated my Virtual graduation from Antioch University Los Angeles MFA program on Zoom, remotely whooping it up with my fellow Cardinals. My son and his family bought their first house and moved out of ours, all of this done with COVID restrictions.


Time Magazine had a cover, which declared 2020 to be “the worst year ever,” and no one disputed this. Even in wartime, a year so fraught with  violence, moratoriums, and political upheaval has not been equaled.

In each blog, I end with my birthday Psalm. This year, Psalm 58 is as brutal as the past year. It ends, however with a promise for the righteous—we’ll all live through this. Not only live through it, but we’ll conquer.

“Mankind will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
    surely there is a God who judges on earth.’” ~Psalm 58:11

I pray this coming year be filled with hope and love for all of you. Tonight, as I go to bed, I pray the same thing for my own family. 
Janet