Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Memory

Many years ago, when Ron and I were still much too young to blame our memory failures on our advancing age, we had the year of the Christmas pillows. The only excuse I can give for the pillow fiasco that happened that year is that we were having the kind of addled brain blips of working parents in a busy, chaotic, noisy household full of children. I enjoyed those busy days and am not complaining about them. But the fast pace and complexity of our lives could, and did, lead to incidents like the pillows.

The whole thing started when I bought two nice-quality down pillows at Costco for an excellent price. I put one in Ron’s closet and told him to give it to me for Christmas and I hid the other one to give to him for Christmas. The pillows we were using on our bed had seen better days and we were both in need of replacements, so the pillows were a good practical gift.

When Christmas rolled around, a few months later, I could not for the life of me remember where I had hid Ron’s pillow. I could not find it. I figured it would turn up eventually and that when I had more time to look for it I might find it. When we opened gifts, I would just explain to him that there was a pillow in the house for him somewhere. On Christmas morning, I was handed a huge fluffy package and opened it to find my pillow, given to me by Ron. But there was something odd about it. It was not the pillow that I had bought at Costco. It was a different one. He had forgotten about the pillow I had told him that I put in his closet. So I promptly went and got that pillow out of his closet, and gave it to him. Problem solved. We both had lovely new pillows. Months later, I stumbled upon the pillow that I had intended to give to Ron, fallen down behind a mountain of stuff in the back of my closet.

Do you remember this Marx Brothers routine? Groucho says to Chico, “I bought you a gift.” And Chico says to Groucho, “And I bought you a gift too.” And Groucho produces a huge salami and hands it to his brother and says, “It’s a salami.” And Chico says, “Funny thing, I got you a salami too,” and he hands an identical salami to his brother. Ron and I stopped buying each other cards a couple of years ago when we bought one another the exact same Valentine’s Day Card. Now, when we buy each other the same gift, we always say, “I got you a salami.” Maybe we should say that we got a pillow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Jewish Mom Network

[I thought I posted this blog entry on Sunday, but just discovered that I did not! Here it is for your reading pleasure.]

One Saturday in October I got a phone call from Sudi. He said he had stumbled in his bedroom (in Oakland) and fell into a mirror leaning against the wall. The mirror had a jagged edge and Sudi cut his leg, just above the ankle. He said he had gotten the bleeding to stop, elevated the leg, and put ice on the cut, but it hurt a lot and he thought he needed stitches. He has a standard transmission car and the leg hurt too much for him to drive. We managed to find a nearby emergency room and a friend to take him there (where they stitched him up). Unfortunately, he was planning to go grocery shopping that day and he had no food in the house. One of his roommates brought him a sandwich for dinner. He called me early the next morning, sounding miserable, to tell me he hadn’t slept much and he was still in pain. He couldn’t walk on the leg (he wished he had asked for crutches at the emergency room). He didn’t have anything in the house to eat for breakfast and he still couldn’t drive (he could barely walk).

I told him to sit tight and I would locate reinforcements. I called my friend Phyllee, my soul sister and a Jewish mom like myself. Phyllee lives here in Ukiah. Her boyfriend of the past couple of years lives in Berkeley so she often goes to stay with him on the weekends. Phyllee and I raised our children together and became very close when her husband died suddenly of a heart attack when her daughters were still teenagers. I called her cell phone and luckily she was, indeed, in Berkeley for the weekend. I told her what was going on with Sudi. He needed to be taken back to the emergency room to get crutches, and to the grocery store to get ibuprofen and food. She said not to worry, she and her boyfriend would head right over to his place in Oakland and take care of him. I called Sudi back and told him help was on the way.

Soon afterward, I got a phone call from Phyllee. She said that she was in the emergency room with Sudi and they were waiting to see a doctor. He had been given a painkiller and crutches and Phyllee had made sure he ate some breakfast. But here was the thing, Phyllee was calling because her daughter Bonnie (who lives here in Ukiah) had just called her to tell her that she was sick and she needed help. Bonnie had gotten food poisoning the night before and had been up sick all night. Phyllee was worried that Bonnie was dehydrated. Bonnie was too weak and dizzy to drive to the store and she didn’t have anything in the house to eat on a delicate stomach. She needed Gatorade, saltines, and chicken broth. Her roommate was there with her, but he had no driver’s license and she lived out on the Rez, not near the grocery store.

I told Phyllee not to worry, I was on it. I ran out of the house and, while Phyllee sat in the emergency room with Sudi, I brought Bonnie some supplies, made sure she was rehydrated and her electrolyte balance was back (Gatorade), that she was not running a fever, and I called Phyllee to give her the report. We jokingly called ourselves the Jewish Mom Network. It is not often that one has the opportunity to return a favor so instantly. Crazy that both our children were having a crisis at the same time. Jewish moms to the rescue!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Permission to Be Happy

I recently read an article written by a hospice worker about the regrets that people have when they are dying. Among the top five regrets the hospice worker listed was that people wish they had “allowed themselves to be more happy.” That’s a curious regret, and perhaps an all-encompassing one that covers all the others; like not spending enough time with one’s children when they were young, or not traveling more, or spending too much time at work and not enough time with family and friends, or not pursuing a passion for photography more aggressively, and so forth. Because all of those other regrets are about not allowing oneself to make the adjustments necessary to be more happy.

But the other part, the biggest part, of not allowing oneself to be more happy has to do with recognizing and appreciating what one has received and what one has accomplished. It seems to me that people who regret not allowing themselves to be more happy are people who recognize as they are dying that they did not count their blessings often enough, did not pause to be grateful for all the good things, the beautiful things, in their lives. Furthermore, I think that accomplishment is an underappreciated value for many people. The American Dream (and, as George Carlin says, “you have to be asleep to believe it”) dictates an image of success based on money, power, and large brush strokes. So people in this country tend to think of themselves as “ordinary,” or failures, or someone who didn’t accomplish much if they didn’t invent the Internet, discover a new element on the Periodic Table, win American Idol, play pro-football, or make a million dollars. People don’t give themselves credit for their accomplishments, the real accomplishments, such as raising good children, working for 40 years as a third-grade teacher, putting a smile on the face of customers as a grocery store cashier for 30 years, making beautiful gardens, planting trees, learning to recognize birds by their songs, being a good friend; well, I’m sure that you can think of a million more, you can see where I’m going with this. Enough said.

This is what I want to say to anyone reading today’s blog: Remember to give yourself permission to be happy. Don’t time-travel in your head as much, wistfully remembering the good old days now long gone, or imagining the future. Settle in the present more often and appreciate your contribution, the good work you have done so far. It matters. It makes a difference.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Stories We Tell

The stories we tell are more than entertainment, more than educational tools: they profoundly impact the world we live in and they may very well determine the survival of humans on this planet.

First, some physics. I confess that I am woefully deficient when it comes to understanding even the most basic principles of physics. But I do understand that physicists have proven that the universe is fundamentally made not of matter but rather is made of energy and surrounding fields of energy. Also, quantum physicists have proven that scientists observing how particles behave in an experiment actually have an impact on the outcome of the experiment. By the act of observation, the observer changes how things turn out. The observer’s energy alters the result of the experiment.

Next, about water. Dr. Masaru Emoto, of Japan, has proven that the quality of water changes according to the energy people send to the water. In his book The Hidden Messages in Water, he shows how his experiments prove that water crystals (as water freezes) formed from water coming from water bottles with positive words written on them (such as “love” and “gratitude”) are magnificently beautiful, while water crystals formed from water coming from bottles with negative words (such as “hate” and “anger”) are malformed, and frequently are unable to form crystals at all. Dr. Emoto’s research into the formation of ice crystals proves that the energy that humans put out into the world has an impact. If water receives positive messages from people, then it is high quality water. If it receives negative messages then it is impaired water. (You can see this vividly in the photos in his book.)

So what does this mean about our stories? It means that the stories that we tell make a huge difference as they go out into our world. Our stories shape our future, the quality of our lives, and even our survival on the planet. Our stories are manifestations of our visualizations of a better world, a beautiful world, a world worth living in. It matters that we put positive images and positive stories into the universe. Our stories have an energy that influences outcomes. In the 1970s, a motivation theorist named David McClelland wrote about his theory that the development of societies, the rise and fall of nations, and the progress of humans on the planet are impacted by the stories that humans tell. Our folktales, children’s stories, myths, legends, and fairytales influence history, culture, and (according to McClelland) economic systems. Our stories create the patterns of our world; not just the stories we tell our children, but all the stories we send forth, create our world. (That’s why Harry Potter must persist and vanquish Voldemort.) As a writer, I have a responsibility to put forth positive stories (not necessarily with a happy ending, but with positive messages). But I’m not the only one. Each person has a huge responsibility to promote positive energy with the words, images, history, portrayal, and concepts sent out into the human conscious and unconscious.

So be very careful what stories you tell.