When I taught elementary school, December was always the happiest month in the school year. Many students were making plans with their families for ski vacations, or Disney trips, or even for European travel … I taught public school in an affluent community, and parents were generous with Christmas gifts to teachers as well. Through the years I’m sure I accumulated nearly a hundred Christmas mugs, most often filled with chocolate treats or gift certificates to book stores and coffee shops.
At home, meanwhile, Rick and I would be working on wooden ornaments for our many nieces and nephews, and special gifts for our two grandchildren… wooden toys from Grampy, and pajamas from Nana. These are very happy memories … colorful paints, cute little shapes of soft wood … Some years were busier than others, but we were always able to travel to Maine to spend Christmas Eve with both our children and both our grandchildren. Our own home would be decorated with lights on the outside, colored bulbs, and candles in the windows, and a six foot tree decorated with ornaments bought and ornaments made. When our daughter was young we would invite her friends to a Christmas Eve afternoon party so their parents could do some last minute shopping or wrapping. We would spend Christmas Day between visiting our parents’ homes, one for dinner and one for supper. The day after Christmas was our day to spend at home with her new toys. When our son was born many years later, our parents had aged and we spent one meal at our home with all three parents in attendance, and then the evening meal fifty miles south at my brother’s home. And again, the day after Christmas would be our day to relax.
Everything is different now … Rick is no longer here with me … there are no wooden ornaments for me to paint for nieces and nephews … the house is moderately decorated with candles in the windows and the creche that stays up on the bookcase. There is one tree decorated in the window of the shop, but not here in the house … not since Rick died. From the outside, it looks like I’m celebrating.
There are many large group gatherings for the holidays to which I am invited … the senior center, the quilt guild, the needle-craft guild, the veteran’s quilt group … and while I appreciate all the opportunities to celebrate with friends, the size of the group determines which ones I will attend, as larger groups are hard work for me … hard to stay focused on conversations with so many voices… so many dates to remember and schedule around.
I had two doctor appointments that I’ve cancelled this month … too snowy for the first one, and just too early in the day for the second. Both involve Boston traffic, and though that doesn’t dissuade me, rising before daylight and getting on the highway at sunrise and sitting then in traffic for an hour or so at the city’s edge, just to have my skin checked, is more than I can do in the dark of winter. I will see him in January, with a later morning appointment. I’m not sure how many more times I will go to see him, as I’m not sure I want to continue finding and treating the melanoma … he always finds something, and then surgery follows, and then after care follows, and I am alone for all of it. I have to wonder how long I can continue to do this alone.
December is the darkest month of the year, and it poses more challenges than I can continue to face in Rick’s absence. I’ve done my best, and have failed once already … I may never be forgiven for that failure … and I am trying to avoid a repetition.
It was a busy few weeks … another unexpected but happily completed Centenarian quilt, one US Navy quilt and one US Army quilt, all finished in three weeks’ time. I did most of the work on my domestic Bernina sewing machine, which Rick bought for my birthday fifteen years ago, and daringly did a bit of free motion quilting on my new (second hand) Sweet Sixteen mid-arm sewing machine. Mid-week I made my semi-monthly visit to Atria, where I did a mini-trunk show of some of my small quilts, which pleased the residents. Many positives in such a short time, and all good reasons to be grateful for what I am able to do … what brings happiness to others, and so ultimately to me.
Yesterday, I spent the holiday with my youngest sister and her family, including her two grandchildren, ages one and almost three. The food was delicious, the company happy, and the weather cleared long enough to let the little ones spend a few minutes outdoors. I am blessed to have a sister nearby who invites me to share her grandchildren with her.
I have grandchildren … a boy and a girl in their early twenties, and also a girl and a boy under the age of two. The older two live more than a hundred and fifty miles north of me, and while I usually spend holidays with them and my daughter, weather is occasionally an obstacle, as it was yesterday. They had snow and slush and freezing rain, many vehicle accidents, and so I was asked not to risk the trip north as they would worry about me. The younger grandchildren live quite nearby, and while I would like to see them more often, I am careful not to push for their company or an invitation to their home. My friends are shocked that I don’t see these local little ones, but I own that absence, as I remember how Rick and I had spent every holiday dashing between both our parents’ homes in the early years of our marriage, and then spent every week day and many weekend evenings caring for our parents in their own homes, until ultimately they either came to live with us or were placed in a nursing home where we visited daily and nightly. I have to be patient and wait until the little ones want to visit me. Some say I am an enabler.
Rick and I never intended to put that caregiver expectation on our children. We were a formidable team when we were together … what he could do and what I could do was exponentially more when we could do things together. We were enough to meet each other’s needs, and the needs of many others. We were the local couple … Rick as an only child with a mother who developed blindness and breathing difficulties , and I the only one who stayed here in town with aging parents and their combined needs and illnesses, and so it logically fell to us to bear many of the care-giving duties. For several years we were maintaining all three homes … I don’t want to put that expectation on my younger child, who was married only weeks before Rick’s sudden death. In a matter of eight weeks, our son moved out of our home, and then my husband died. In a matter of eight weeks, I was alone for the first time in my life. And so I am seen as an enabler, as it is difficult for me to ask for assistance. Rick and I could handle anything, together. And I was determined to continue to handle things, alone.
Our son happens to live nearby; in these past three years he has become a husband, a son in law, and and a parent of two little ones. He works many hours as a firefighter/paramedic, and when he is not working I know he wants to be home with his wife and children. I want them to have the freedom to be a couple and a family, as our older daughter had, beginning her adult life in another state. It was logical that she would do that, as we had brought her up to believe in herself and to feel independent and capable, and she is all of that. We never expected her to be here weekly or even monthly sharing her children’s childhoods… and no one else expected that. Distance was accepted as a reason for occasional visits … and she did visit, with the children, for special occasions, and more recently, for moral and physical support to me in meeting my challenges here alone at home.
But it is different for our younger son … it is harder to explain to people why I haven’t seen our little ones on a regular basis. After Rick’s death, I was determined to learn to handle things on my own … or with outside help that I would find a way to afford … and it was hard … harder than anything I had tackled before in my life, harder than being a mother and a grandmother and a daughter and a wife and a graduate student and a teacher, simultaneously. At the end of my first year alone, I felt I had proven that I could continue on my own, but was sure I did not want to continue alone … and I did not want to hold on until I could no longer hold on … I did not want to become dependent on either of my children, nor on my grandchildren. And so that first December alone I tried to leave this life, leaving my property intact for my children and grandchildren to inherit without losing it to nursing home costs as we’d lost both our parents’ properties … I wanted to be with Rick … and I wanted my family to be at peace knowing I was with him, at peace. But I failed in that effort … friends intervened … and here I am.
So yes, I have grandchildren at a distance and grandchildren nearby … but I don’t see any of them on a regular basis, and I know my friends have a hard time understanding the why of that. I wish Rick were still here, and we would be enjoying our retirement, visiting our grandchildren without dominating their lives, and enjoying each other’s company for many more years. I wish we were able to travel as some of our friends are able to travel as devoted couples … I wish we could run our small shops together for another two decades, as I had anticipated and foolishly predicted in my first fiction books …
But as those wishes cannot be fulfilled, I now wish only that friends and family could understand that I am doing my best not to interfere in others’ lives … I’m using what I have to give to others who have needs … I wish everyone could see that I do love my children and grandchildren but I want to be a resource to them, not a weight on their present … not a limit on their future. I just wish to be understood, and accepted for who I am and can be, and for what I cannot be.
Sunday mornings used to be such a comfort … Rick and I both home, free to choose how to spend our day together. I would most often wake to the aroma of coffee, as he would have been up before me and would have started the coffee maker … he never drank coffee, nor tea, but would in his kindness turn it on for me. I wake now to the voices on NPR (national public radio) courtesy of WBUR (Boston University Radio at 90.9 FM.) I’ll get up, thereby waking Pretty Kitty who sleeps beside me, her fluffy kitty bed in the place where Rick’s pillow would have been, were he still with me. I am still free to choose how to spend my day, but the sense of adventure passed along with him when he died.
Instead, I rise, make my K-cup coffee, my microwave instant oatmeal, topped with applesauce, and take my eight pills to start the day. The thing that makes this morning special is the Marsh Chapel service at Boston University, in which Reverend Dr. Robert Hill gives a sermon that comforts me. From eleven to noon, I listen to the organ music, the choir, and his voice extolling the promise of our youth … reminding them, and all of us listening, of the importance of living a life of honesty, generosity, compassion, kindness and truth. He commiserates with my sense of loss … not only the loss of Rick’s love and comfort, but the loss of the country I once knew, the land of the free, because of the brave.
They say the impeachment inquiry of the occupant of the White House may take only weeks, and not the months and years that the Mueller investigation took … and that is an optimistic belief as I don’t think many of us could tolerate another full year or more of examining his every flaw … and yes, I do call them flaws … character flaws … privileged behaviors that offend, demean and hurt so many others, so many unable to fight back. I did try to ‘give him a chance’ to grow into his role as president, but he proved only disappointing, as with lengthening months and years of privilege, he has proven only to be selfish, thoughtless, inept, immature and a bully. When, on occasion, he delivers a formal speech, conceived by others, written by others, and no doubt forced upon him by others, he does so in a reluctant monotone, as though in a drugged state, fettered by those who otherwise have to step in to clean up the mess he makes when he speaks candidly.
Dr. Hill has a poetic style of speaking … ministering with the ease of practice, and a knowledge of linguistics … using syllabication, repetition, rhymes and reasons, to help us interpret the readings of the parables, of the gospels, of the psalms. His voice is an easy voice, full in his knowledge and most often steady in his confidence. Sometimes, on rare occasions, a hint of his personal, compassionate empathy is heard, or at least heard by my ears.
I’ve taken to sitting with a journal page and pen on my lap when I listen to him, as I wish to jot down what thoughts he inspires … I used to call it my “think in ink” writing … it is not the same as typing here, as here I focus on writing to be read, where in my journal I focus on writing to understand, writing to plan, writing to dream, and writing to write.
He has been the minister for a number of years, and there are pages and pages of his sermons preserved as text and podcast on his blog, and I continue to read and listen there. But the ritual of listening to NPR through my sleepless nights is rewarded once a week by my hearing his new, always timely, always current, sermon. I learn to trust faith when I hear how he interprets spirituality … I learn to trust his leadership in the journey forward. I invite you to hear him, also, and perhaps share his strength with those you love.
Here are the links for the online live broadcast (Sunday mornings 11 am EST) and the blog with archived sermons:
https://www.wbur.org/ Click ‘Listen Live” at the bottom left of the page, or tune in to 90.9 FM on your radio
http://blogs.bu.edu/sermons/ Dr. Hill’s blog archive of sermons
Wishing you all a peaceful, gentle change of season! ~ Terry
Sorry I haven’t updated this blog in quite a while, but truth be told, I have not had any health issues to report on. Rather, with the summer off from medical appointments, I’ve concentrated on my small business. I started by hiring the contractor/friend Rick always called for large projects, and he came and replaced the clapboards that were falling from the front of the shop … backing them with strong tar paper and exterior plywood sheets. Then he pulled the over sized, antique air conditioner from the side wall, taking with it the previously-modified (cut and shortened) six over six window, and rebuilt that wall’s resulting, gaping space with more exterior plywood and a new window and storm that match the still existing one. With a friend, Donna, I re-installed the newer air conditioner in that existing window..
I had heard animals below the raised floor of the shop’s second room, so we looked for and found entryways chewed into the wallboard of the shop’s original office. I had to remove a lot of stored clutter from that space to be able to locate the holes in the upper and lower wall beside the desk (a beautiful honey-oak teacher desk discarded by the school department when they remodeled the elementary school where I taught.) We fixed the lower hole by sliding a plank of wood in front of it. The upper hole remains in need of patching with wallboard, but the exterior holes are now blocked from the outside.
There is still one open hole at the peak of the roof, in the air vent, and I suspect squirrels are still accessing the barn by that route. The contractor will come back in the fall with a ladder and a grate to seal that off before winter.
I’ve begun painting the new clapboards and window, having had the older painted clapboard’s color matched at the hardware shop. I’ll also be painting the shop door a dark blue, to match the doors on the house, which also need to be repainted. I bought the paint at the end of May, but until last week did not have three dry days in a row, below ninety degrees and 70% humidity, to use it. I can paint for about twenty to thirty minutes before needing to take a break indoors with my feet up, to avoid the recurring pain in my ribs that has haunted me for years. Slow but steady will get the job done. I have the first coat of white on the new window frame, and will fussy-paint the munions of the window ‘s twenty-four-panes in cooler weather this fall. The right side of the door’s clapboards are nearly finished with the light blue (all but the bottom two rows, which I’ll wait and paint after I dig a trench and fill it with pea-stone to stop mud spatters on the wall) … the wall to the left side of the door will take a bit longer as I’ll repaint the faux-sliding barn doors along with the new clapboards.
There is a lot of touch-up painting on the house itself to be done, using the same gallons of paint as the barn … “Prelude” (light blue/gray) for the clapboards, white for the trim, and dark blue for the doors… I’ll begin that work in the fall, when the barn is finished for now. It’s a New England tradition … take care of the barn before the house, for the barn is the reason the house exists…
My medical-appointment-free summer is ending this weekend … two doctors to be seen next week … and the skin surgeon pending in the wings … I continue to do the best I can do, and be the best I can be. Baby steps.
Oh – and speaking of baby, I have a new granddaughter, born the second week of August.
There is still occasional ice on the walkway in the mornings, but it is often gone by mid-afternoon. The temperatures continue to bounce between below and above the freezing mark, so the winter jackets and spring sweaters compete for room in the small closet by the door. I wake up each morning slowly, hearing the world news on NPR coming in brief, headline spurts followed by some but not all full stories. It is enough, I find. I don’t need to hear (or worse, see) the gory details. I cannot fix them. I can only wish.
New Zealand had no reason to expect the violence that occurred this week. But to their credit, they have already banned automatic rifles in its wake. The USA has had multiple such tragedies over the past decades, but we have yet to ban those rifles nationwide.
The starvation in Yemen continues to take the lives of hundreds of children day by day, but we continue to supply arms to our ally, Saudi Arabia, who continues to wage war against that population. We wring our hands, send thoughts and prayers, but don’t retract our contracts for additional weaponry. Nor do we condemn their actions.
President #45 (or, AKA, Individual #1) has submit a budget so punitive to education and other essential agencies that enough Republicans joined with the Democrats to reject it, but enough Republicans continue to support their leader that overriding his VETO is unlikely, and so it may in fact take effect. He also plans to reduce Social Security Benefits, and allow fossil fuel drilling to take place on (formerly) federally protected lands.
The days begin to offer longer hours of light, due to the earth’s orbit around our sun, but the dark clouds of this administration make feeling optimistic a difficult challenge. There is truth in the belief that, when a person is feeling down, helping another lifts both spirits. I’m doing my best to continue doing for others. I’m trying to take comfort in the truth that I am able to help others in various ways … I guess that’s why I’m still here, separated from my beloved. My spirits, though, do not feel lifted. I continue to feel abandoned by my love … left without his supportive confidence in me … and without his strength and competence in facing and fixing so many needed repairs. I’m doing my best to remember all that he modeled for me … I fix what I can, and hire when I cannot. I do not leave things undone …
But there is no ‘Rick’ solution for the repairs needed by the world. Perhaps that is why Rick was taken from us … we were all so used to him being there to make things better. I miss him so very much, and know that I am not alone in that … he did so much for so many.
But the many still have their others to be with them and to do for them in Rick’s absence. I have only his absence. And the gap in my life is not one that lets light come in; rather, it is more like a deep, dark crevasse, filled with shadows of memories and echoes of longing. Each bright morning, I see clearly that he is still not here. I am still without him. I am still alone.
I’ve been listening to NPR late at night as I try to fall asleep … the soft murmur of indistinct voices is oddly soothing, as though discussion of the world’s issues is important but no longer requires my input or feedback.
But the teacher in me still has an immediate need to comment on the style of some of the commentary … I enjoy the snippets from Ted Talks frequently shared … and the varying segments of music that bridge the gap between topics and news and BBC reports. A less than focused me can listen in but has no responsibility to retain and/or respond.
But there is something about these episodes that has elicited the editorial edge of this retired teacher, and it occurs predictably at the end of each brief interview. The staff member of the local radio station thanks the participating interviewee, and the interviewee unfailingly responds to the thanks offered by saying “Thank you for having me.”
The first two or three times I heard this response, I wondered if cue cards were offered to provide nervous interviewees an acceptable, brief response. But if so, why not suggest the simple response “You’re welcome,” or perhaps “My pleasure.” As I listened night after night, I continued to hear “Thank you for having me.” And it began to discomfort me. Why, I asked myself. What is it about “Thank you for having me” that rings somehow wrong?
I talked with a few friends about this at lunch today, and while one agreed with my expectation to hear “You’re welcome,” another said the response was acceptable, as it is a polite way to return the thanks to the giver. I had to agree that it is polite. And yet…
To me, “Thank you for having me” alters the stage a bit. The journalist’s “Thank you” to the guest speaker establishes the speaker as having provided something to the radio audience, at the request of the radio host. That puts the guest in the position of the giver, and the audience and radio station as the receivers of the gift. The guest telling the radio host “You’re welcome” effectively, politely, closes the dialogue between the giver and the receiver.
When the guest instead says “Thank you for having me,” the dialogue is not yet closed, yet to the radio audience it is ended, unclosed. And the guest is no longer confidently standing in the position of giver; rather, the guest is now positioned as the receiver of a favor or gift. And while that may, in fact, be a true reflection of a program, it seems better to reflect on the guest as having provided the gift of expertise, information, entertainment or whatever, rather than having received the favor of air time, publicity, experience or whatever being a guest may provide.
I guess that change in position is what troubles me. If I’m listening to a radio program, I don’t want to think that I’m listening to someone who may not have truly earned the right to that spotlight.
I wonder what that says about me?
Christmas had always been my favorite holiday. When I was young enough to still believe in Santa as a child, I tried hard to stay awake and listen for the sleighbells on the roof, though we were on the first floor of a two and a half story home with Aunt Helen and Uncle Adam above us.
Rick said that he loved Christmas as a child, too. He was an only child, with Aunts and Uncles living only neighborhoods away, and I’m sure there were many presents under his tree, too.
As young parents ourselves, we enjoyed decorating our apartment with home made ornaments of wood and fabric … when our daughter was a toddler we began having an open house every Christmas Eve, inviting our friends to bring their children to us during the afternoon to play with Trish while they went out for last minute shopping or wrapping. We continued doing that after we bought our first home here in town, playing Christmas records and having sing alongs with the kids. We stopped doing that when our first child went to college and our second child was in daycare and we were both working full time to cover expenses of both college and daycare …
Our two children had two very different childhoods. Our daughter lived in the same town, from kindergarten age on, as our son who was born many years later. She grew up with four grandparents and many cousins who gathered almost every Sunday at my parents home for cookouts, weather permitting. And she spent many after school hours with my husband’s parents as he and I were both working full time in most of those years. She was a school and town athlete, a strong academic student, and a member of a group of similarly-skilled friends who enjoyed each other’s company.
Our son, born almost seventeen years later, grew up with three grandparents (Ricks dad died of Cancer when Rob was just a baby) who all had serious age related illnesses … cancers, blindness, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, COPD and related depression. Our time was often split between caring and being involved in Rob’s life while caring and being involved in the medical care of our parents. While our daughter had enjoyed camping trips with us each summer, our son’s vacations were very limited to day trips locally. We did our best to keep him as involved in town sports as we had our daughter, but when we needed teachers’ support in understanding his parents’ limited homework assistance time, we were let down and eventually pulled him out of our small town school system, enrolling him instead in the larger town where I worked, believing he would have wider exposure to technology there. But in the larger school, with affluent peers who regularly attended sports camps and had academic tutors, he faced larger challenges than we were able to help him meet. Still, he, like his sister, was accepted into each of the three colleges he’d applied, but eventually changed course and focused instead on training for a creer as a state certified fire fighter and paramedic.
Rick and I missed many of our grandchildren’s games, plays, recitals, etc., in Maine during those years of elder care and Rob’s youth. We did our best to stay connected and visited as often as possible for Christmas and birthdays and such. And our granddaughter and grandson are now adults themselves, with college years now ending and their own adult lives beginning.
Our newest grandchild is now nine months old, and will never get to sit in his Grampy Rick’s lap … but I have put away one of each of the trucks Rick had made, so that he will know the work of his Grampy’s hands, as our older grandchildren have. Our son and his new little family live not far away, and they are building their own family life together. I know if Rick were still here with me, he would help us work out a way to be lovingly connected without being physically demanding, as our parents had all been during Rob’s childhood. I reach out to them, invite them here, and send messages now and then to let them know that I love them. I hesitate to ask more of them, as I don’t want to be a cloud in their lives. But I do miss them … all of them, here and in Maine. I can visit Maine when I want, and see my daughter and sometimes my two grandchildren there. And I can wait, patiently, quietly, until my son and his wife and child want to visit me … not because they have to visit me … but because they want to, or because their little boy will want to. Meantime, I can give him one of his trucks for each holiday and special time … the wooden toys his Grampy made because he knew, one day, there would be another grandchild…
It is ironic that the CD player in the shop, where Rick and I had played Christmas Music all year long for his Wooden Toy and Gifts, is no longer working. The shop is quiet … the sounds of saws and sanders, Rick’s footsteps on the stairs, the clunk of heavy wood being placed upon the table … I miss those sounds. I have lit the candles in the windows to honor Rick’s and my love of Christmas … I believe he will be happy I did at least that for what was our favorite holiday … I still cannot comprehend why his life was taken from us on that special morning. The candles will help on these darkest of dark nights.
Yesterday, I went down to CVS to buy a few more bags of candy for the Trick or Treaters, just in case kids from other towns who’d already had their night of Halloween might come into the square, as sometimes happens. And though I don’t know whether others joined our town’s kids or not, I was glad I did that, for I gave out about a hundred bars, and guess that meant about fifty to sixty little ones in costume.
For many years Rick and I always sat together at the end of our driveway, knowing that kids wouldn’t find our back door (and no one ever comes to front doors, do they?) For the past twenty four years Halloween has been here on North Street, and for twenty-two of those years, he and I would take our two wooden lawn chairs (that he’d made) out by the lantern. Rick would bring a cassette player and tapes of Halloween songs such as the Purple People Eater, the Monster Mash, the Witch Doctor … silly songs that reminded us of our own childhood years. And yes, we’d each eat a few of the chocolate bars we were handing out. For the first seven or eight of those Halloweens we might sit alone, as one of us would be shadowing Rob on his own Trick or Treat journey around the neighborhood streets, and of course, driving him across town, first to the north end, and then to south, to see the grandparents and show them his costume. Once he was in his teens, Rick and I most often sat together, wrapped in our quilts, listening to those silly songs and greeting our young visitors.
This year and last were so different. I sat alone, and as the evening darkened I replaced the burned out lightbulb in the post lantern. I didn’t bring the music out (I don’t actually know where to find those tapes) but instead brought a book and a flashlight, and sat alone, wrapped in my quilt, reading between visitors. My neighbor across the street was not home, and the house next door to him is empty and dark. Our lantern didn’t throw much light, as I think I put just a 40 watt bulb in it … it was enough that they could see that I was there, and they all stopped by to wish me a happy halloween and collect their treats. But between each group’s visit the night returned to dark and quiet. I didn’t read more than a few pages in those two hours … I was oddly calm, sitting alone in the small puddle of light on the dark street. I had no sense of fear, or worry, or danger. I don’t fear danger anymore. I don’t worry about what might happen to me. I don’t worry about anything. What will be, will be.
I talked with a good friend yesterday, sharing a cup of tea with updates of how her grandchildren are doing … she asked about mine, and I confessed I don’t know. I remembered that my counselor and doctor had both asked me to share with close friends and families my honest thoughts … and so I did. She told me of a friend of hers who had just passed away from ALS … and I shared her sympathy for the friends’ family, saying it was nice to know that they realized her pain had ended with her death, and her peace could now begin and be appreciated by those left behind … I told my friend that I had wanted my family to have that same sense of my finding my peace, and Rick, when I tried last year … She immediately said that oh so familiar sentence … “But it wasn’t your time.” I told her I understood that those who called the police and had me taken to the hospital believed that … they believed that God had a plan still in place here for me. And I told her that I have tried to accept that, but still don’t know what His plan for me is … there are many people who could and do make those quilts that I make … and I don’t understand why my free will, my choice, was not honored by my friends, or by Him. I wanted to be with Rick … I miss him so much. But they wanted me to stay here, alone as I am.
I won’t try again. My emotional pain remains as all encompassing as it did the day Rick died… as it has every day since. My heart truly did die with his. I have resigned myself to having to wait until a sufficient amount of physical pain and illness will justify it being ‘my time.’ My friend acknowledged what i was telling her … that though my pain is invisible, it is as real as a physical pain. But still, she said, it’s ‘not my time, not yet. People here love me, and don’t want me to go yet.’ I asked if her friend’s family didn’t also love her, and not want her to go yet … I’m sure she was thinking to herself that the ALS symptoms and pains are worse than my depression and empty sense of loss without Rick. I can’t help her understand the parity between the two. I can’t help anyone understand that. But I can’t deny that I feel cheated of my free will, of my choice, of my planned exit. I cannot understand why they think life without him is better than death with him.
I cannot explain it, I cannot repeat it, I cannot appreciate their wish that I would remain here, without Rick. And they cannot explain it to me.
And so I will continue to do what Rick and I had done together for each annual event such as Halloween, and Veteran’s Day, and Election Day, and Thanksgiving, and Small Business Saturday, and Christmas – the hardest of all – Christmas… and all of the ordinary days between those annual events. I will endure each day one by one as they continue for me, and wait as patiently as I can for the malignant melanoma, the degenerative multiple sclerosis, the osteoporosis, the scoliosis, the optic neuritis … none of which anyone can see … I will wait as patiently as I can for one of those to take hold and grow and increase and eventually, finally, let it be ‘my time.’ And I will pray that when I get to go, not by free choice but by exhausting my life, that they will say ‘rest in peace’ for me.
Rick, I ask that you wait patiently for my body to give out as yours did … with this song:
I did sit through the Congressional Hearings this week … the three hours of Dr. Ford’s presentations of her high school experience with Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh, and his five hours of response. The day before the hearings, I flipped back and forth between the two polarized networks, CNN and FOX news coverages.
Television is a powerful medium … it provides both visual via the occipital lobe, and auditory input via the temporal lobe of our brains and that doubles the impact of the input. When I listen to NPR’s WBUR fm radio broadcasts late at night, there is only the auditory input, though my own active mind’s eye provides imagined visual input via the occipital cortex of the temporal lobe, and that impression is nearly as powerful.
Sadly, the unforgettable events of this week will remain with me, and does have an effect on my overall mood. I am saddened by the loss of the apolitical third branch of government: our Supreme Court was designed to have the power to check the powers of both the executive and legislative branches of our government. For years I taught my students that the judges chosen for that highest of branches were chosen for their impartiality … their demonstrated ability to remain objective, to be non-partisan in their judgements, and to be above the political fray of the other two branches. The sole responsibility of the Supreme Court is to uphold Constitutional Law, and to hear only those cases involving constitutional issues that have proceeded through the lower courts.
Brett Kavanaugh feels he has earned this seat on the Supreme Court because he has spent more than two decades of his life in ‘high political positions’ under President Bush … as a Federal Justice … as a member of the impeachment hearings of President Clinton … prior to this week, he insisted on not answering some questions relative to the president’s culpability by saying he had to remain independent and politically impartial.
Certainly, he had to defend himself. Yet he defended himself in yesterday’s hearings with anger, with vitriole, with nearly ‘histrionic’ tears and sobs, claiming that having to hear and defend himself against Dr. Ford’s allegations has destroyed his name, his career and his family, and accusing the minority party, the democrats, as being on a ‘search and destroy’ mission, and further accused them of phrasing their questions as ‘revenge for the Clintons.’ He clearly aligned himself with the majority party … the republicans who, under direction of the republican President Trump, had already determined that Dr. Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh were merely a ‘hiccup’ to be briefly heard before the nomination proceeded forward.
Only when a group of women confronted one of the ‘undecideds’ in an elevator, did the request for an investigation of the allegations by the FBI become an insistence tied to a critical 51st vote for confirmation. Dr. Ford had asked for such an investigation; the democratic senators had asked for such an investigation; Kavanaugh himself said he would welcome such an investigation IF the majority party also requested it, but they had not.
I have watched, and listened to, all of these dialogues. My anger flared as I learned that Dr. Ford, a respected psychologist who had requested confidentiality, and her family were the recipients of hate mail and death threats following the release of her name. My heart broke as Dr. Ford told her recollection of the ‘alleged’ sexual assault … her fear that she might have died as she could not breathe with Kavanaugh’s hand on her mouth … her vivid recall of his and his buddy’s ‘uproarious laughter’ at her expense while he was on top of her, trying to remove her clothing … And her explanation that these memories, though decades old, were firmly imbedded in her hippocampus brought back my own experience, long ago imbedded permanently in my own hippocampus. Those old memories suddenly, obtrusively, became vivid, tactile, and emotionally smothering.
No one had put a hand over my mouth during those long months of nightly, illicit visits to my childhood bedside in the boys bedroom (where I had been moved as there was overcrowding in the girls room.) I was under the age of ten, and would never have told anyone what was happening to me … for to tell would have brought physical punishment onto the one who was doing this, and I would feel guilty for having kept silent and ‘allowing’ it to happen as long as it did. It had been interrupted and stopped by my moving upstairs to sleep safely in my recently married female cousin’s room … and the result was that, once I was removed from the scene, another had begun to have the visits. But she was younger, and indignant and felt no protective guilt, and called him out and told our parents … and he was then sent away to be guided toward better behavior by priests. I later went to church and confessed that I had hid the truth from my parents, and the priest who had heard my confession gave me a penance of two Our Fathers and three Hail Marys, and my secret remained my secret and nothing more came of it.
The congressional vote on Kavanaugh is now postponed for a week, to allow the FBI to do whatever level of investigation President Trump will allow. I do not know why he has the power to set the parameters of the investigation … I do not remember that as being delineated as one of the president’s powers in the Constitution … I guess it is because this is a political rather than criminal investigation. That, I believe, is a mistake in itself. Perhaps the statute of limitations for a criminal accusation has expired after 36 years since Dr. Ford’s experience. More than half a century has elapsed since mine … and yet, it is today as fresh as though it were yesterday. It may always be so, when triggered by news of another’s similar, openly-admitted event.
I fear for our country, as I once feared for myself, and for my abuser.
I didn’t really want to retire when MS cognitive impairments forced me out of the classroom … but in retrospect, it did give me five years at home with Rick before his untimely death, and I appreciated that time allowed.
But there is now another reason to appreciate not standing in front of a classroom of 8th grade students learning about the Constitution’s origins and powers in our government … I doubt I could fulfill the expectation of all middle school social studies teachers … that unspoken but implied requirement that personal political preferences have no place in a classroom teacher’s syllabus.
I recently read the collective anthology of essays written by 27 psychiatrists … it is titled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. It offers practicing psychiatrists moral support from respected peers in opening the dialogue with troubled patients who need help in dealing with the stress of disagreeing with friends, family and co-workers over the status of the three branches of our government today. The book wrestles, writer by writer, with the conundrum of two mandates of the psychiatrist’s code: the Goldwater Rule and the Duty to Warn. The concensus within this group offering their perspective is that the Duty to Warn far outweighs the Goldwater Rule.
More recently, a number of former CIA officials decried the removal of security clearance of Former CIA Direcor John Brennan, and several other intelligence agents, by President Trump in a collective letter: “The move has united a who’s who of former top intelligence officials who served under both Democratic and Republican administrations… The group of former CIA directors, CIA deputy directors and Director of National Intelligence called the move “ill-considered” and said the threat of additional removals are not based on security concerns but have “everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”
It may be time for educators to follow suit, forming a committee of professional teachers and school administrators who will write of the looming task of facing students when schools reopen in the coming days; social studies teachers will be the most likely to face contentious classroom debates among students, and on parent visiting nights among the adults as well, as regards the ongoing investigation of the current administration’s alleged criminal activity during the election of 2016. We can leave it to the psychiatrists to find a way to evaluate Donald Trump’s credibility as a national leader; we can leave it to the intelligence agents to file charges of irresponsible, unconstitutional activities of this administration; we can leave it to the members of Congress to seek the removal of Trump and his allies … but we must not leave it to individual classroom teachers to handle hot topic discussions regarding this president. The job of the teachers in middle school social studies classrooms is to present the Constitution … to explain the balance of power among POTUS, SCOTUS and Congress that is written into the documents’ lines … to explain why the first amendment is threatened by a president who wields power with a personal vengeance without modeling a disrespect of the office itself … to build an understanding why the second amendment writers never anticipated the possibility of a citizenry armed with weapons of mass destruction … to explain why the nineteenth amendment does not address equal rights (beyond the right to vote) for women and so seems to allow for the vulgar expressions of bravado regarding how “stars” like Trump can take advantage of women at will … and to explain the twenty-fifth amendment‘s potential to resolve the current debacle if only Congress were not so one-sided…
I am so relieved that I no longer hold the position of a highly qualified teacher of United States History in an 8th grade classroom filled with students who have conservative parents sitting next to students who have liberal parents … for how would I keep a straight face in defending their responsibility to respect the man in the office of POTUS?
But who among the educational community will take on the responsibility of soliciting and accumulating and editing such a guiding peer review of our current government for social studies teachers walking that tightrope?