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Monday, January 13, 2020

Happy New Year!

Last week I finally got around to the post-Christmas decluttering (well, except for the fireplace mantle which still looks so fresh and pretty, I'm leaving it as is for winter). ANYWAY, our beautiful  tree has been carried to the woods behind us still laden with the gingerbread cookie ornaments that I place on the tree every year (story for another post). I hope both the birds and squirrels enjoy our tree as much as we did.

Except for the mantle, decorations were moved to the basement and most everything was back to its usual place. So I thought. Yesterday morning, when I finally went through the accumulation of books and papers on the coffee table, I found a wooden tree puzzle beneath the Times. Later in the day, I found the Christmas pillow my daughter made in elementary school, and in the library, I found a small errant elf, wooden and without arms hiding behind the Christmas music on the piano. No matter how I try, some thing or things always escape my post-Christmas sweep.

Maybe that's a good thing. Why shouldn't good-will and cheer last more than a few weeks? Why should reminders of Christmases past, of people loved and children grown, lie stuffed in a blue plastic crate in the basement?

A few years ago, I decided to keep up a Santa I had cross-stitched years ago. Tender feelings of wonder, hope and love, I thought, should remain in our hearts year round.

I did bring the tree puzzle, child-stitched pillow and errant elf to the basement, but like the pine needles I won't find until June and the cross-stitched Santa who stays up year round, I am reminded that Christmas isn't something to be stuffed away. Wonder hope and love are gifts in every season!

May the unwrapped days of 2020 be kind to us all!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Last week was my birthday and each texted or emailed birthday wish, each message left on my FB wall or messaged privately added sparkle to a flu-ish rather than festive 10th of December. Comments left by family, old friends, former classmates and students as well as by my more recent connections were  like a string twinkling lights reminding me how lucky I’ve been.
December birthdays are particularly reflective. This passing year— and for this go round, this passing decade— is ending. Soon we’ll be bombarded with all sorts of retrospectives. Though it’s been a happy year for me personally, (twinkling birthday lights and a new book coming soon), this past year has also been fraught with collective anxiety. Seeds of distrust, hatred, anger and fear sprout in bald spots across the nation and globe. 
How can we expect children to grow up clear-eyed and honest when so many values stitched into the fabric of our national soul have been ripped out and discarded by adults who should know better?
Despite the peevish behavior of presidents and politicians, kindness matters. Truth matters. Words matter. As a new year, a new decade begins, these are the twinkling lights that will create a path to peace.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

An Open Letter to Veterans Everywhere

I wrote this post awhile ago and have reposted it often.  In these divisive times, it bears repeating. There is power in words, in memory, in kindness and in gratitude.

The Vietnam War raged throughout my childhood and into my young adult years. Colorful memories of hayrides and sleepovers, schoolwork and marathon phone conversations are interspersed with blurry black and white snapshots of maps and battles ~ those broadcast on TV and those explored in Friday afternoon current event articles. I hated the war, though not for any deep, idealogical reason. What I hated were the ugly pictures, the angry words, the pep rallies turned into peace rallies that were spoiling my fun. To quote Scarlett O'Hara, War, War, War! It seemed that was all anyone talked about.
Many years later, I was reminded of my youthful attitude towards the war. I was in New York, walking towards Washington Square, wearing my favorite blue cotton dress, the one with the soft wide belt that cinched my then very-tiny waist. Even now, decades later, I can still feel the breath of spring, the bounce of youth. 
      My heels click-click on the cobblestone street. I’m young, free and happy. The world is waiting for me...
...and then I see him. A burly, wheel-chaired veteran sitting under the arch at Washington Square. My clicking heels accentuate the leg stumps he doesn’t try to hide.  All those current event articles, the ugly pictures in magazines and on TV ~ but for the first time, I understood how very little I knew about the Vietnam War, how very little my life had been impacted.
  Writers are rescuers. We save events, moments, people and feelings from being swallowed by time and forgotten. I’ve long outgrown my blue-cotton dress and clicking heels but I never forgot my Washington Square Veteran or the lesson he taught me.  In homes and classrooms, on street corners and in capital buildings, we debate the pros and cons of conflict. But in every war, there are those who give so much more than their opinions.
     His appearance in my novel, All the Broken Pieces, was my way of honoring and thanking the Veteran of  Washington Square for sacrificing his youth and his innocence.
We lost a big piece
of ourselves in Vietnam,
and none of us will
ever be the same,
but we did some good too.
We made a difference.
  I wish my Washington Square Veteran could see this post or read my book. I hope that he has found some measure of peace. Whatever one’s opinion about Vietnam, or any war for that matter, all veterans deserve our respect and gratitude. From the deepest recesses of my heart, I wish them each of them peace. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Very Special Acorn

Emily Dickinson’s poem, "The Soul Selects its Own Society" popped into my head this morning when I was dropping my grandson off at preschool. I had just parked my jeep under a tree with dozens, perhaps hundreds of acorns beneath it. 

Look at all these acorns! my grandson said. 

What kind of tree do you think this is? I asked, and was impressed when he knew it was an oak.

Just like the book about—, I started to say, but my grandson wasn’t listening. He was rolling the acorns under his sneakers and looking intently at each one. All were hatless, some of them crushed open but most of them still whole.

Here, he said, giving me the acorn pictured above. Keep this one!

I looked at the acorn he gave me, then at the dozens, no surely hundreds at my feet. Why this one? I asked.

Because it’s special. 

I put the acorn in my pocket and we trotted into the school. The soul selects her own society and then shuts the door, Emily Dickinson wrote. 

When I got home, I took the acorn out of my pocket and studied it. It's small, brown, with splotches of discolorations but no cracks— it looks like every other acorn I have ever seen beneath every other oak tree I have ever passed. 
I will never know why my grandson found this acorn so special. But he gave it me. He asked me to keep it. I know why it’s special to me.
I've known her — from an ample nation — 
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

                                                         (Emily Dickinson)

Friday, September 20, 2019

Requiem for a Young Fly

I'm not even sure how you slipped in—
I’m always exceptionally careful, 
when the slanted arms of the sun 
the fading green tint 
of grass and leaves,
and the black-eyed susan
is the only one left standing guard 
against the early morning chill.

I am always super-aware 
of solitary hoverings that long 
to sneak inside my house 
for warmth and unswept morsels
scattered beneath my feet.

We had quite a dance, you and I— 
I must admit there were times
you got the best of me. 

I applaud your swiftness
and quiet perseverance—
so unlike the fat ones
who make the loudest buzz
but can hardly lift a wing.

At first your youth startled me—
your playful daring taunted me.
But then, I heard my mother’s voice.
You are bigger than a fly,
than an ant,
You are stronger than a mean girl 
or brutish boy.

I swung again. You disappeared.

Outside, nothing is different:
summer rays wane;
black-eyed susans stand.
Only I am changed 
by your unexpected visit—
left alone to ponder 
on a quiet, late-summer morning
how something so small 
and almost-silent,
could summon distant giants.

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Child

It seems I've always been around children. Older sister. Babysitter. Teacher. Aunt. Mother. Grandmother. And while I've a terrible time recalling names and dates, details and feelings from my own childhood are as accessible as the penny in my pocket— sitting on the front stoop beneath the shade of the sycamore rocking my Tiny Tears; hopping over sidewalk cracks on the way to my friend Denise's house; watching for my father from the little window in the sunroom; and on the happy days when I stayed at my Godparents' house, standing at the bus stop on the corner of 14th Street, waiting for my Uncle to emerge from the big green bus that carried him away from the glass factory where he worked.  My mother and aunt didn't work outside the home, but they worked, and I played, imagined, watched and waited beneath their watchful eyes. There were new babies, new homes, new schools (and new worries), but wherever I went, I felt safe and loved. I read books and made up songs and poems; I picked small blue flowers with fragile stems that grew between the cracks in the Brooklyn sidewalk and yellow dandelions that dotted the lawn in New Jersey.

When I was older, I asked my mother why the world had suddenly turned so bleak and sad. In addition to a spate of relatives dying, weekly current events were a painful reminder that the world had become an imperfect place.

The world hasn't changed, my mother said. There's always been sickness and war, and people we love dying. But the veil of childhood protects us. The world hasn't changed, but you've grown older. The veil has been lifted. 

I thought about it and realized my mother was right. While I was busy playing with Tiny Tears, Chatty Cathy or Patty Play Pal, while I hopped over numbered squares with Denise, or looked through picture books and wrote poems and songs, my mother and father prayed for peace and mourned the loved ones missing from their lives. The world hadn't changed— there was just so much I hadn't known.

My mother's response shaped my commitment to children and the firm belief that every child, whether in my home or my classroom, should feel safe and loved. Security gives us wings, I gradually realized.  For me the veil of childhood was lifted gently by early good-byes to sycamore trees and sidewalk cracks— by old friends sorely missed and new friends who were not always kind—  by current event articles cut from newspapers and pasted on looseleaf beneath the tender, watchful eyes of parents who loved me.

A new school year is beginning and I am confident that most teachers will strive, as I always did, to create secure spaces for their students to learn. Security gives us wings and every child deserves to fly—

something a child in a cage, separated from his or her family, can never do.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Happy Fourth of July! 🇺🇸

Independence Day celebrates the ideals which forged our nation— ideals published more than two centuries ago in the document that declared our separation from England.  For generations, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as outlined in the Declaration of Independence have formed the genetic code of the United States. This code transcends the lack of vision and narrow minds that throughout our history have misinterpreted, limited or politicized it.

On the Fourth of July and always, we do well to honor the brave men and women who protect and defend our freedoms. We also do well to reflect on the moments when ignorance and pride have caused us to disregard our values.

The core of our national character is not found draped in camouflage and marching in grand parades. The core of our national character is found at barbecues and picnics, in parks and beaches, sitting on wooden benches or ragged blankets, gazing up at a bright, color-speckled sky.

The core of our national character  reaches out in kindness and compassion to those who seek freedom, to those who are persecuted or lost, or broken— to those for whom the desire for acceptance is still a dream. 

The genetic code of the United States was written more than two centuries ago and is not celebrated in a show of tanks and guns, but in the friendship, fellowship and hope of all people who desire liberty— whether or not they are lucky enough to gaze upward at a bright, color-speckled sky!