Crises Recalled and Survived

The Polio Menace

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My Mother’s eyes filled quickly with tears which soon cascaded down her face. I looked at her, surprised. “You’ll never know what a relief it is for a parent to live to see this day!”she blurted out. I had been taken by surprise. Apparently, the discovery of a polio vaccine was a dream come true for parents. I’d never realized the dark shadow the threat of polio had cast across lives.

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That conversation took place the day the success of the Salk vaccine for polio was announced to the public.

I spent most childhood summers avoiding swimming pools and movie theaters. My Mother’s orders. That’s what you did in the 50’s if you were middle class and the threat of catching polio hung over you every summer. At off seasons I sat uneasily in movie theaters as collections of dimes were inserted into cardboard slitted containers for the March of Dimes as rows of helpless children captured in giant breathing apparati, appeared on movie screens. The iron lungs helped victims to breathe as the disease took its nasty toll. It was particularly hard on children and lungs. It was hard on children to watch as well. I think I pushed the threat of polio for myself to a far corner of my mind. It was just too much to iron llungcontemplate.

Summers became a lot more lighthearted following the introduction of the miracle vaccine. Polio in countries that vaccinated quickly became a distant memory.polio free

The years go by. As does a lifetime. Politicians go by. Wars go by. The Korean, The Vietnam, WWII,The Cold War, 9/11, The War on Terror. Each bringing its own threats and concerns. Some are quickly forgotten, others carve deeper scars. And life does go on. As does disease.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with these unpleasant facts of life. After making the decision that it was wise for us to shelter in place, life is rather dull, but very relaxing. I’m afraid it’s making me lazy, but I don’t really care enough to change it. Better to be relaxed than panicked, I think. Maybe the end result of all this will be a country that is more functional? Voters who are wiser, politicians who value the truth, and a greater understanding of what it means to be in this stew together. Maybe this mess will bring greater international cooperation among nations? Maybe we’ll value the arts more, now that so many venues have been closed?

Long story short, I want to wish my readers well. Thanks to everyone who takes a chance on their own health by caring for those who are ill. Let’s all try to be our best selves in helping others when we can. If only with kindness and a smile.It can make a difference for all of us.

Let’s also hope there’s a brilliant rainbow behind the fucking black cloud overhead.

My Remarkable Friend: The Immigrant

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Her first question to me after we met was, “Is everything dead?”  I was taken back, unsure of what she meant.  When she explained that she saw no leaves on trees, or flowers growing, I was relieved to tell her that in Georgia, where she was now living, it was winter! I promised her she’d soon see trees covered with leaves.

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She had just arrived in America from Sri Lanka, along with her husband, a newly hired professor of Theology, and an infant son. She had moved from a life of some privilege, to a small garage apartment.  She was relatively clueless about the USA.  But she was a fast learner!

Her husband was a soft spoken former Buddhist priest.  She was a lively vivacious, extravert. She loved to party and loved to dance! For awhile, I helped her navigate her strange new world, wondering, all the while, about how she would survive here.

One day I got a call from her (we were next door neighbors) asking me apologetically, to show her how to bathe her young baby.  She explained that “the servants” had always done it at home. I was of course, eager to comply. She remained grateful for that help until this day!

It wasn’t long before she announced to me that she wanted to become an ESL teacher. Her husband had a pretty hands off attitude and seemed to know better than to try and stop her.

Sure enough, she persisted and got her degree. She mystified many people who met her in Georgia, because they couldn’t determine if she were white or black. I think it surprised her. She endured racism because of it, but plugged on. She is so charming, that she makes friends wherever she goes, despite inherent racism.

rural poverty in GA

She ended up teaching school in one of the state’s poorest counties. A county that few teachers wanted to work in. Her students had few comforts in life and a bleak future. But she was determined to make a difference in their lives. Because of her innovative efforts at working with these kids who most had given up on, she ended up becoming a Georgia Teacher of the Year!

She noted that her students had very few clothes (including shoes) and sometimes would not attend school because they had nothing to wear. She singlehandedly created a special closet in her classroom full of clothing for them she got from friends and neighbors. The children could help themselves to whatever they needed, no questions ever asked.

She did her best to get the parents involved in their child’s education. That was a struggle, but again she persisted and was able to enlist the help of parents in their own child’s educational success. Breakthrough!!

Her beloved husband passed away a few years ago. Although their personalities were very different from one another, they was tremendous respect each had for the other.

She found the courage to move closer to her sons, both of whom lived in California. She left behind many friends and a beautiful home that she and her husband had lived in. She moved into a retirement village not far from her family in California. She began teaching zumba there. She recently managed to buy herself a bright red Tesla. Her son, without telling her,had a stop device installed on the car so it won’t go over 60mph. I laughed when I heard it. Smart man.
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This past weekend, her sons, one now a cardiac pulmonologist and another an attorney, threw her an 80th birthday party at the retirement complex where she now lives. Over 100 people attended her party! She danced through it all, with more energy than seems possible. She’s going strong. The room was charged with the energy and good will she brought to it.
One of the residents told the group that their retirement home had been changed forever for the better when she moved in. I believe it.
When I hear people begrudging immigrants, I think of my beloved friend. The extraordinary commitment she brought along with her to improve the lives of others shines like a universal beacon for the rest of us. Let’s look and learn and welcome.

 

Roses are Red…

The olde nursery rhyme, Roses are red, etc. is probably one of the first rhymes that American children memorize. It’s a charmer for a young child, easy to recite, and to manipulate the last two lines for their own needs be that loving or cutting.
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I remember loving Valentine’s Day from the early days of elementary school. Each teacher I had would lavishly decorate a box that would hold all the valentines our classmates brought to school for their friends. They would be distributed at one time on V Day. All the kids waited anxiously,( the less popular ones probably more anxious than the self assured), hoping to have a substantial accumulation of envelopes piled on their desks to confirm he/she was not an outcast. Unfortunately, these were the yoyo(you’re on your own!) days. There were no mandates that a student should bring or make a card for each classmate.  The distribution of cards was inevitably unequal, and actually an unnamed popularity contest.  I remember the distribution being occasionally excruciating as I waited for a card that failed to materialize. Oh, the heartbreak!

THE powerful and mysterious VALENTINE BOX would appear several days before V Day. They were mostly crepe paper works of art that any young  child would think is gorgeous. I remember studying their construction each time I walked past the teacher’s desk, hoping hoping hoping that my name would be on a reasonable number of envelopes.

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Some cards from friends included some small candies which would be an added bonus. Let’s face it, the chalky pastel heart sayings never tasted good, but they were fun to look at and I managed to eat them even if they didn’t taste very good.

I think by the time we got to middle school the Valentine Distribution was over. At least I have no memories of such events. Just as well, because I know it would have been painful for me. Those years were awful as far as I was concerned. I didn’t know who my friends were from day to day.
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I used to enjoy going antiquing in New England with my Mom. I quickly began to collect vintage Victorian Valentines. I think they’re beautiful to this day.
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The truth is I like to decorate things. Vday makes it easy. When one of my granddaughters passed through her first VDay I saw it as a perfect opportunity to dress her up. See digital card below.
nat valentines day

Vinegar Valentines could be found in the Victorian era if needed.
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Fast Forward to having my own family. I tried to do it up for my kids when they were young. My mother would always send large boxes of candy for each child, along with other Valentine -themed miscellany. My Dad had a grocery store, so I imagined that she had fun with a grocery cart at the candy counter piling up the junk. My kids were invariably thrilled. I kept the Valentine tradition going, probably longer than I needed to!

My parents gave me Valentine cards as long as they lived. My father often bought me a heart shaped box of Whitmans’s candy. That was a Big Deal, because he hated to shop, even though I knew he’d probably gone next door to the drugstore to buy the heart!   I’d kept those boxes as treasures and the chocolate scented paper cups and liners that contained the candy too. The lavish heart boxes resembled coffins as far as I was concerned, but they somehow managed to still look glamorous.

I continued the tradition of giving each of daughter a card each year, long after they were grown.

One year, after experiencing a drought of cards from my children, I let it be known that my feelings were hurt. The daughter I shared my sadness with, looked at me with alarm and curiosity. “Why should I give you a card?”she wanted to know. “After all, I am not your boyfriend.”

Now I still will get a card for my younger grandkids, but the older ones? They’re on their own! (TOTO)They never inquired why I stopped sending them cards.  Sadly, I don’t seem to be on their lists either, assuming they have one! But it’s understood we love each other, I hope!

A Contemporary Valentine:

Dear Donald Trump,
Roses are red,
Like, so red.
So red, you won’t even believe that they’re real roses.
Trust me, I know roses.
And these roses are red.

Moving Forward

The Holiday season brings mixed emotions each year.  I imagine the longer one lives, the more mixed it becomes, as losses accumulate. Such is life.

Many years ago my mother passed just before Thanksgiving. Many more years ago my infant son died of crib death at three months of age, just before Christmas. The season can be redolent for me with memories of being very outside the circle of celebration that the world surrounds us with at this time of year. The memories become less weighty as time goes on as does the realization that the season can be viewed as a construct or a launching pad. It too will pass, so I try to enjoy and celebrate what feels real and ditch the rest that becomes cloying.

The annual acknowledgement and assessment of Time passing is sobering as well, but this year, looking back at memories has brought me a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.  The relationships I’ve managed to sustain have brought distinct pleasure and meaning to life.

With that in mind, I want to share with you one of the most joyful moments of my last year.  Of course, it has to do with dance.  For our last and past season of DANCEworks,Doug Varone revived “Lux,”an astonishing work that touched me deeply,created during an earlier DANCEworks residency.

It left me spellbound when I first saw it and continues to work its magic. I felt privileged to be able to commission it and am so happy to continue to share it, even if on a small screen.  I think it’s a tribute to our shared humanity.

LUXURIANT. LUX IS ALL ABOUT FREEDOM. IT IS WHAT DANCING REALLY FEELS LIKE, THE KIND OF DANCING I MIGHT DREAM ABOUT: LOOSE AND SWEEPING IN A SPIRIT OF EXULTATION. VARONE PUTS THE BEATING HEART AT THE CENTER OF HIS WORK. BEGINNING WITH VARONE’S MEDITATIVE, RESILIENT EXPLORATION OF THE SPACE AROUND HIM, LUX SEEMS TO PROGRESS TOWARD OPTIMISM, AS A PROJECTED MOON SLOWLY RISES ON THE BACKDROP, AND THE PERFORMERS TAKE PLEASURE IN THEIR RICHLY CONVIVIAL CELEBRATION. LUX SATES YOU WITH DANCING, BUT YOU’RE STILL RELUCTANT TO LEAVE THE FEAST. -THE WASHINGTON POST

I look forward to living in a kinder, gentler world again soon where we can treasure the earth that’s been given us and give it and its inhabitants the respect and love so deserved!

https://vimeo.com/50294427

One Journey Ends, Another Begins

I awakened from my sleeping pill slumber as we were an hour out of LA.  Relief that the long flight was nearly over flooded my consciousness. Awareness dawned that I hadn’t eaten dinner or breakfast, falling asleep early in the flight and blessedly remaining asleep for most of it. Gratitude.  I’d eaten more than enough while in Japan to tide me over. I was returning to the land of my birth, the seemingly now crazy, angry and often chaotic place that I hardly recognize is my real home.  I am returning home to take the next steps in my new role as retiree.  I like it!

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After stumbling in and out of bed for two days, waking to help celebrate my granddaughter’ s 7th birthday, and then losing myself in slumber again, today I seem to have my wits about me. Small blessing!  Life can resume.

The Basquiat Show at the Mori Art Museum

Kyoto has truly become a second home to me.  Familiarity has bred comfort in this case.  I no longer walk around like other tourists I see, looking as if I’d landed on the moon unprepared. In fact, I generally now know where I’m going, secure in the fact that I’m not going to fall off the edge of the earth. Secure in the fact that people are kind in Kyoto and if a problem occurs, they’re only too happy to help me.  musing:  I wonder if Kyotoites identify me as simply “other” or as “other” with a quality of belonging somehow to their culture rather than just a passing tourist.

The Fun Loving Cats of Japan

Not as much seems surprising anymore. When I first came to Japan I couldn’t take more than three steps without stopping to gape at something that I’d never see at home. No longer.  I’ve upped the ante I guess and become more discriminating. The cutsey stuff has become cliché.  The bakeries and food quality remain at the top rung of the ladder. As do the temples and nature. The fear of being rejected when making a dinner reservation  has dimmed.  Of course the fact that my husband does this, is quite helpful.  Nothing much from fear of the unknown deters me anymore, except large crowds.

The Splendid Gardens of Kyoto

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We have a marital division of labor that works pretty well.  I run the washing machine and my husband does the scheduling, which I’ve not done well at (to put it mildly).  I find the intriguing places and events to track down, he finds the way to get us there. Generally good-naturedly.

The Spiritual Edge

So now I’m back, newly retired.  I’m loving the new found freedom to make it up as I go along.  I’m also loving that it’s a sure thing I’ll be back in Japan come Spring!

Japanese Landscape Dreams

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a sure sign of fall, berries demanding attention.
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After he rains, water is flowing in the run off ditches alongside the temple walls.

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osmanthus, should be scratch n sniff!

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fungi on downed tree

In review, I’m posting a few of my favorite things from this trip.  Thanks for coming along for the ride with me.