Sunday, June 26, 2011

Founding Fathers' Nightmare

On Tuesday, my friend Ina will work her last day as the Children’s Room Librarian at the main branch of the county library system after serving 10 years in this capacity. Although Ina is in her early 60s, she was not planning to retire this week. Her position has been cut from the budget. In addition, the library will be closed for yet another day of the week, leaving it open only 3 days a week. For this reason, I have no patience for government officials talking about low literacy rates and children unable to read and teacher accountability for this problem. I pay $4000 a year in property taxes to this county. If that money were put toward Ina’s salary, she could work 2 months a year part-time. And if 11 other people (out of the over 80,000 living in this county) were allowed to allocate their property taxes to Ina’s salary, then she would be back at work fulltime, serving our county’s children.

This coming fall, when children return to school, there will be no librarians at the elementary schools in our local school district. Our district has already cut excess, cut essentials, and is now cutting off arms, legs, and noses. The administration has also cut all “health technicians.” This position was a downgraded version of the school nurse that was created to save money (less-qualified staff, lower salary). Yet the health techs are trained in medical and health procedures. With them gone from the schools, there is no one on staff qualified and trained to, for instance, administer insulin if a child goes into a diabetic coma. Boy is our district a disaster waiting to happen now. Firing the health techs was about the most unwise cost-saving maneuver I can imagine (is it even legal?). Wait for the first lawsuit when a child is rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. I am being optimistic. I am assuming any medically fragile child who goes into crisis will live. Whether or not s/he will be literate is another issue.

This year’s Fourth celebration is just around the corner. And I’m thinking that two of the greatest institutions of a free society, the public library and the public school system, are being destroyed. While our libraries and schools are collapsing, the politicians argue about whether or not to tax the wealthy, which is really an argument about how much they fear crossing the corporations that put them in power. While our libraries and schools are collapsing, federal tax dollars are being poured into buying weapons for soldiers who are turning schools in Afghanistan into rubble, which is really about lining the pockets of those profiting from the military industrial complex. Poor Ben Franklin (who, remember, invented the public library). Poor Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. George Washington. Oh how the founding fathers must be turning over in their graves. One nation, under Capitalism, with liberty and justice for the wealthy.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Out of the Shtetl

The shtetl, for those of you who don’t know Yiddish, was the Jewish “ghetto” back in the day, in Eastern Europe. Jews lived relatively isolated in these little communities. Lived and died there, never left, until finally driven out by persecution, as depicted in Fiddler on the Roof. So this week, I’m thinking about that construct, living in a close-knit circle of friends and family, for one’s entire life. I left my home where I grew up and travelled far away, all over the world and all over the country, in fact, before I settled in California. I don’t regret moving to Cali. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Ron and I share a deep love for the ocean and would never go too far from the Pacific. I have a circle of friends here, my own self-made shtetl of community. Yet this week, when my Cousin Marcie passed away in N.Y. at the age of 89, I had a few pangs of remorse. Our family is now so spread out that I rarely see the cousins with whom I grew up (including Marcie’s children) and my cousins’ children. I would have enjoyed watching these children grow up and being a part of their lives.

Today, on Father’s Day, my dad is in Israel visiting his first cousin Sari, who was born and raised there, and her sister Dalia, from Canada. Sari’s daughter was married last week so Dad and Dalia (and some of Dalia’s children) went for the event. When the Nazis began to overrun Europe, my father’s family scattered to the four winds. Canada, America, Australia, Israel, France, wherever they could find safe haven. Sari and Dad are close and visit each other back and forth internationally once or twice a year. Sari calls Dad each week on her cell phone, often more than once a week. I suppose if our family had stayed together in a shtetl, we would have been in each other’s business, it would have been nasty, quarreling, gossiping, driving one another crazy while loving each other to death. Maybe it’s better this way. And yet.

My children took my (and Ron’s) adoration for the Pacific away from their childhood with them. I doubt they would ever leave Cali. Like me and Ron, they need to be near the ocean. They are spread out across the state, but that’s doable. Close enough. Ron and I will be having a reunion with them in August at the beach (of course) when we drive down to San Diego. The Cali shtetl? Maybe a little bit.

Happy Father’s Day to my lovely husband and my terrific dad.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Great Liberation Upon Hearing

I just returned from the Dance Brigade (of San Francisco) performance of their new piece entitled “The Great Liberation Upon Hearing,” which, for those of you who don’t know as I did not, is the original literal title of what the Western world refers to as “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” It is also referred to as the “Bardo Thodol.” I know very little about Eastern religions and so did not know that the “Bardo Thodol” is read aloud to the dead from the time they are dying, through death, and during the time between death and reincarnation.

Tibetan religion teaches that we progress through many lives in the process of liberating ourselves from our negative karma so that we can ultimately become enlightened and liberated from the constant return to the earthly plane that happens when we are reincarnated. Interestingly, this very week I am reading Alice Walker’s The Temple of my Familiar, which I read many years ago and forgot so am rereading. One of the characters in Walker’s book, Lissy, remembers many lives through which she has passed. One of my favorite moments in the book is when Lissy explains that when people get old and approach death, they are in the habit of looking at death as a resting place, as peace. They imagine that they will finally put down the burdens of this world and move on to the spirit realm. But Lissy does not let us off the hook. She says that we do not escape the tangle in this world so easily. We are destined to be reincarnated and to return to continue figuring it out, reversing the damage, cleaning up the environment, and all the rest of the hard work that needs to be done. We cannot so easily escape the mess the world is in. Lissy goes on to say that what scares her most is not death but what she will find going on in the world when she is reincarnated back into it, i.e., how much worse the situation will be.

The “Bardo Thodol” is read aloud to the dead because it is thought that when someone is newly dead, their awareness is confused and that they need help and guidance to advance to enlightenment and liberation or else to their return to the earthly realm through reincarnation. The Dance Brigade’s performance was a representation of one spirit’s journey from death, through the afterlife, and back through the doorway of entry for reincarnation. Walker’s character Lissy basically tells us that we are not allowed to throw our hands up and give up, to grow old and die in peace. One way or another, we will have to work through this mess, make sense of it, heal what has been damaged, in order to come to enlightenment, which occurs when we recognize the luminosity of awareness. Not when we simply see the luminous, for the Tibetan Buddhists believe that we always see it upon death each time around, but when we recognize it, for we don’t often recognize what we are seeing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On the Meaning of Cats

I read in the newspaper that recently completed research proves that cat owners live longer. Cat owners are 40% less likely to die of a heart attack and 30% less likely to die of any type of cardiovascular disease (including stroke, heart failure, and chronic heart disease) than people who have never had a cat. Yay kitties. According to this latest report, interacting with cats reduces stress. I’m not so sure about that; clearly the experts have not met my scamp Ella, who is the smartest cat in the known world. She is a cat with a sense of humor and the joke is often on me. Ella has figured out how to open the screen door to the back deck. Although her sister, Golda, has seen Ella do this trick over and over again, Golda can’t work out how it’s done. So Golda frequently sits at the door patiently waiting for Ella to appear to open it for her. Golda is a very beautiful orange tabby with green eyes who is a generic cat. Nothing unusual about her. She does all the things cats do. Ella, on the other hand, is kind of like a small child trapped in a cat’s body. Ella is all black with enormous green eyes in a little round face, and a constantly impish expression. I have had about 15 cats over the years, but these two girls are my favorites of all time, especially Ella, who is my darling.

After reading about the increased longevity of cat owners, I wondered if it’s the impact of having a cat in the household that makes the difference or if it has more to do with the sort of person who chooses to have a cat in the first place. Perhaps people who have cats are easily amused, or quickly delighted by the antics of animals and other natural phenomena, or less likely to sweat the small stuff. Interestingly, people who have dogs live longer than people who have never had a cat or dog, but people with dogs don’t live as long as people who have cats. What is up with that? What does this data really tell us? Heck if I know.

The article that said that cat owners live longer also said that the following habits increase longevity: meditating, taking a multivitamin, hanging out frequently with friends, exercising, flossing, eating healthy food (and that specifically included red wine and dark chocolate so yay to that), and getting enough sleep. If I am fortunate enough to live to a ripe old age then I want my extended twilight years to contain a lot of purring and a lot of dark chocolate.