The days grow short … when you reach September

The equinox – a balance of day and night

Summer is dwindling, a few hours left until our globe intersects with the sun and the light of day is in balance with the cloak of night. Do our souls sense this? Or is it just our awareness of the calendar, and knowing that it is just a little darker when we awake. Whatever the case, at last, I have been able to sit and write, and reflect, again.

The wonderful Brothers Four – their voices blending like honey flowing.

Although my posts have been less current of late (goodness – 6 weeks!), I think about tidbits and wonderings all the time, and write down ideas – “to be explored”, like the pathways of an unfamiliar garden, rather than my mind, or history, or my city.  In fact, I have been able to get out a little more, taking walking tours of neighborhoods that I have only driven through – you discover hidden sides of this city by walking.  I do admit, though – it has been difficult to sit down and work on putting thoughts to screen (can’t say paper anymore!)  What makes it difficult?  Of course, my excuses are easy to reach for, when I remind myself that I want to work on writing – but one overrides all the rest.  I am just not sure that I have something meaningful to say. 

Sometimes you need to leave the familiar to gain perspective – now, we have all left that which we know.

When I paid WordPress nearly two years ago now, in late 2019, for the name of my blog, storage, and more – we were all in a different place. I certainly was. As I have shared, I had come to the conclusion that it was time to end my career (or, end getting paid for it, at least), after a health crisis and many changes in my personal life.  Friends had often said, kindly, that my periodic letters with news via email had meaning for them – and, having spent years trying to work through various issues, coming “out”, finding love, and leaving my southern California life behind to move to San Francisco – I thought, perhaps, there might be some value in sharing my experiences, lessons if you will, with strangers, and friends – that the price I had paid might benefit others to find courage and hope to move beyond, unlike me, before the parade passed by. 

Some might be shocked to hear me say that phrase – it’s not that I do not have joy in my life, or that I have not continued to have amazing life experiences in the nearly 10 years since I made a decision to work towards finding a way to be happy in life as I was, instead of swimming in shame over who I wasn’t.   I know I am very, very lucky – to be alive; to be loved; to be relatively stable and relatively healthy, especially in this era of constant uncertainty and shifting “truths” that drive our everyday behavior.  So it is not that the parade is over – but the band is a little quieter, a little more distant – and I am coming to a kind of peace with accepting that I cannot catch up, nor could I ever have – only try to stay in step, and raise my banner in time. 

But recently I was reminded that sometimes there are old boxes in the basements of our memory, dusty and filled with things we don’t need anymore, and they can pop open at the most unexpected times.  For me, several came together at once, starting with a film I saw listed last month on Netflix, but have not yet viewed, about various leaders of the “ex gay” movement that was at its strongest in some ways during the years I was pulled into its relentless gravity – looking for freedom, healing, holiness, and all those other tasty promises that were held out by the cheery Willie Wonkas claiming to represent the will of God.  I eagerly gobbled their candy, and sang the songs, and shouted my huzzahs and hallelujahs, but still knew only emptiness inside.  I had thought after all that I had come through, and come towards, in the past decade, that the feelings associated with that era were vanquished; that I had only happiness to work towards now.  So it was shocking to me that in just mentioning the existence of the documentary to a friend – one who, like most in my life, did not share that experience but knew that it had molded – nay, mangled – my heart – I felt a well burst open, of pain, and regret.  I spent decades wearing masks, before Covid – those were deeply embedded in my face, so that when I looked in the mirror, even I could not see who I was underneath. And the boxes stayed, not fully forgotten.

I am certain you too have some buried wells, and although I will someday, soon probably, watch that documentary – and learn, and remember, and move on just a little more – it was not time, just now, to air out those old boxes.  The geyser of feeling, and pain, had taken me by surprise – I thought I had put all that behind me.   As some have told me, trauma never fully heals – but we learn to deal with it, and to balance the future and the gifts of the present against that past.  I sometimes feel deep regret that the process for me, which continues, impacts the lives of others who love me but who cannot relate, cannot understand – only in part.  This is a wounding of the soul, so deeply, for so long, that is perhaps blessedly only fully known by those of us who swam in that dark pool.  My regrets cover me like layers of old blankets, sometimes they weigh a little less, but for whatever reason, I cannot leave them by the side of the road. 

But I have been surrounded, carried and comforted by those few angels on earth, others who walked that path and who stand with me when I crumble.  Along with the counselors whose words even know come back to me, encouraging me, letting me be in that pain and yet holding open a window to a blue sky that I might not otherwise remember is also ahead. A close friend has commented on some of my posts that they are therapy for me, and she is correct.  But I hope somehow by sharing this journey, for which I have no map, and no truly identified endpoint – it lets others find hope too. 

There is a way to climb out, and there are more around us than we know, waiting to help us climb.

Oddly connected in ways that may not make sense to anyone but me, as my husband recently traveled out of state to see dear friends who had moved to a new home, I found myself looking for something to view in his absence – we share many tastes, but not all – and I settled on the Netflix reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House”.   Of course, yes, it is a horror series – but under the narrative is a theme of a deeper horror than the whispers of ghosts – it is the seeping poison of secrets, and bitterness, and judgment that drives loved ones apart, leaving us on islands alone instead of together in our imperfections.  Watching it, I realized I have my own ghosts – as does my husband, my friends and family – even this city, foggy, has spirits hovering in it, trapped in another time, which we do not see but whose legacies, not out of ill will or threat, still weave into our conscious and unconscious daily life. 

I found myself thinking about what I really want to make the priorities of the uncertain amount of time I have left, here or wherever – what really matters.  I respect deeply that for many the very notion of faith, or inspiration, or varying belief systems and religious practices, have left scars – and yet I still find comfort in seeing things through a prism of a larger reality beyond my ability to grasp, measure or comprehend.  And I realized that the threads of faith which have been woven into so many of our lives, in confusing ways as well as creating little glimmers of hope, remain very much a part of how I process my experience – particularly in this age of bubbling chaos and the winds of rumors and fear that buffet us as we try to stay upright.  And I know that even though I lack answers and will readily confess my own perspective does not necessarily hold any value for others – that I need to write about that, here, moving ahead.

Sometimes it is not that we need to see something new – but for our heart to see what we know, anew

Not just that, of course – but it colors my vision.  We all have filters over our eyes, whether we are conscious of it – politics, values, memories, culture, stresses and wounds that over the years can fog our perceptions, closing our hearts and our intellects.  I know for all that I think about love and forgiveness and hope, any words that I write could be easily held up against my daily actions toward others – those dusty boxes in my basement have voices of their own that I have listened to, silently, for over 60 years.  

I also want to write about my family history – having the documents, photos, diaries and paraphernalia of so many ancestors piled into boxes and files – they have spoken to me over the years, like the other ghosts.  Their lessons, their sacrifices and joys – they are like little tarnished forgotten jewels that only I can shine, polish, clean and present to those who will walk on after I am gone.  If I do not take the time, no one will – and those images and voices will be gone forever.  And I want to write about the little slices of life that we walk through, my husband and I, gradually getting out a little more, like so many others – realizing that what we did before COVID may not be how we really want to use our time and energy as we gingerly step out and gather.   For many in my life, some of those may not have meaning at all – but I want to write about my new experiences and explorations, nevertheless.  I am blessed to know wonderful people of all walks of life, many who have no connection to LGBTQ history or culture – some may not like all they see, or read – but where I see beauty and hope, I want to share it, even if for some it seems a contradiction. 

And then there is the learning curve of technology, speeding past our ability to keep up. I am frustrated, intimidated and flummoxed by my lack of technical understanding of WordPress, how to lay things out, how to index and make them “discoverable”.   When I began, I just thought posting and using keywords would be “enough” – now, I realize anyone visiting would have to randomly scan through to find anything of interest – and why, with billions of words being generated around the world daily on blogs and websites, would anyone take the time to do that?  So, another goal will be to restructure this website – to make it easier to find similar posts.  Will that be easy?  Uh, no – but, just like exercise, that which is hard is usually that which is most worth doing.  If I don’t take the time to learn how to use the tools, I cannot expect my work to be as potentially impactful – circling back to my uncertainty that the time and effort I put into writing these occasional posts has the appropriate “cost/benefit” relationship.  “Partitioning” the nearly 40 previous posts; exploring the guts of WP mechanics; and refocusing what “The New NormL” is about – moving ahead – is a priority as fall begins to creep forth and the sun drops below the horizon a little earlier each evening. 

So, in that moment coming soon, when the sun and earth balance the hours of night and the hours of day, we too try to find our balance. Think about it- for half the planet, spring is approaching – for “our” half, fall. But we all move on in our cycles, and my journey also continues toward authenticity – to fullness; healing; frustrations occasionally, but hope bouncing back eventually, round after round.  My season is changing, and something new, and wonderful, is waiting to be discovered, shared, and celebrated. Here in San Francisco, most faces still remain under masks much of time, but the process of peeling those layers of old masks from my heart takes more than just permission from authorities.  I have no idea how far the road stretches ahead but staying put is not an option.  Yes, we still face many threats – political, social, health; economic, interpersonal, and weaving through all that, however you may put it – spiritual.  That which is bigger than “us” or “me”, the mysterious stuff of time and timelessness, the longings of a deeper part of my being and, I dare say, yours as well – albeit on a different path.  

I find myself frequently turning to music as a touchstone to my feelings and my longings.  Today, the song that comes to mind was written by Hoagy Carmichael, whose work is remembered perhaps more than his name,  but you can learn about him here.  I think I first heard this reverie as the opening credits song for a film which was about memory, and longing – love, and joy, and forgiveness, and hope; all the things my heart is drawn to as I walk along my path, with time slowing my pace.  The movie was “My Favorite Year”, with Peter O’Toole, and it retains its charm 40 years later.  I guess in a way, even at my advanced age, I relate to the character of the young writer – a fictional blending of the experiences of writers like Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen, on 50’s variety television – working through life’s dreams and illusions to find the deeper, and more meaningful, reality at the heart, what we long to hold and to know.   Perhaps my deeper discoveries lie ahead – I will do my best to share them with those few who find their way here.  Until next time – stay safe as “the purple dusk of twilightime … steals across the meadows of your heart.” 

Finding my fit part 1 – Reaching for a dream ….

I am old enough to remember seeing the then famous, and ridiculed, “90 pound weakling” ads in my childhood comic books.  I kind of remember being skinny as a young boy, but after puberty – and all the associated issues – I ballooned up.   Still, for many like me, ads like those of Charles Atlas showing a muscular man awakened a sense in me that I was – inadequate. 

I was not the only boy in the 60’s who saw these ads and began to feel there was something wrong with me …..

Our culture has only exaggerated those messages over the subsequent decades – now, there are so many standards for “measuring up” that the media touts incessantly.   I certainly absorbed it all – being a typical “picked last” guy for the PE class teams, uncoordinated, and ignorant.  Everything about my life marked me as not belonging – I had no father to teach me how to play games, I turned to my intellect for achievement – it serve me well financially, and in employment – but I always felt like the outsider.  For the most part, those around me reinforced that belief.  In time, I knew my attraction to other boys was not mainstream either – so my sense of not fitting in, not measuring up, only intensified.  

Skip ahead from my teens to my late 40s – I was severely overweight, used food to deal with my emotional needs, and still deeply closeted.  One of the ways I escaped reality, besides food, was seeking happiness at the happiest place on earth – Disneyland.  I had many wonderful memories there – and when I learned that they were going to have their very first half marathon in 2006, 15 years ago, I decided to start training.  I figured if I couldn’t lose weight by trying to lose weight, maybe I could do it as a side effect by just taking on the challenge! 

At Disneyland, December 2005 – singing in the annual Candlelight Processional.

And I needed something to focus on – because my world was crumbling, in a way.  By the end of 2006 my mother and two other close family members had passed; a few months later, my father joined them.  I worked with a trainer, who endlessly encouraged me to just go a little longer every week – it was a goal, a task I could do, gradually.  I didn’t have to set any records – and I thought about my family cheering me on, there on the sidelines, in spirit.  I crossed the finish line in October 2006, after losing 40 pounds, and a lot of tears.  I followed with the half marathon in 2007 and 2008, and several others – but with age, the physical strain reached a point of more cost and less benefit, so I gave that up.  Like any major goal that takes time and effort – it built my confidence.  It showed me I could do something new, something no one expected – maybe not perfectly, but well enough. 

I have written before how it was the loss of that family dynamic that in time led me to realize I needed to accept myself, and find a way to live, with being gay, and being out.  That process too was a different kind of challenge – one that continues.  I continued to have periods of success with my fitness and weight, and was doing pretty well – until a very unexpected and uncommon health issue emerged and gradually put me into the hospital at age 60, and when I got out, I was emaciated and weak.  My priority was just regaining the ability to walk, and getting back to being able to live – it was frightening and traumatic.  Without the love of my husband, family and friends, I would not have made it.  So it was a little more than 2 years ago that I decided having time to enjoy life was more important than my career, and I ended my professional pursuits, looking forward to enjoying time in my new home, with my husband, building new friendships, travel – all those goals we tell ourselves we can look forward too. 

Photo by Total Shape on Pexels.com

Well, of course … it was just a few months after that we started hearing about Wuhan and strange reports of infectious disease, and before you know it – all those doors were shut for everyone, not just me.  I had already been slowly returning to working out at a local gym, with mixed results – I felt inadequate, barely able to lift the barbell itself, and there were lingering health concerns as well to take into consideration.  As an early birthday gift, I had ordered some adjustable home weights to supplement my gym visits, which was helpful in hindsight as they soon became unavailable as millions of us learned we could not continue to attend gyms or work out together.   Little did we know, of course, how long that would continue.  

Working out on the back patio with intermittent breaks for gardening was my only outdoor escape for several months.  I thought I was doing pretty well, researching workouts online – there are zillions of workout videos and websites with advice, often contradictory, and variations galore.  I have never felt at ease with my body – a kind of innate awkwardness that I wasn’t doing things “right” – but I was at least regular about it.  I learned, sadly, my gym that I had enjoyed prior to all these events went out of business permanently, like so many small companies.  When the larger regional chain gym announced in August that they could now permit trainers to work with clients – at a hefty price – outdoors on the sidewalk, I was one of the first to sign up. 

What I imagined I could become during COVID …..
Photo by Anush Gorak on Pexels.com

It was weird, to say the least.  I couldn’t go into the gym; my trainer, who I picked solely because he was the one on site when I signed up, would bring out the weights or bench or whatever for each exercise and we would be on the sidewalk where cars, bicyclists and pedestrians (including the occasional “unhoused” as they say here in SF) would glance over and wonder what on earth we were doing there.  But it was an outlet, one I desperately needed, and a confidence booster in a way.  Eventually, the state and city relaxed their restrictions, and put in more equipment on the parking lot, fenced and covered; then, allowed members to work without trainers – so more bodies competing for the equipment – and finally, indoor workouts with masks and sanitizers.  I was truly impressed with how the gym management functioned through all these changes, and the employees were nearly always positive and responsive, when everyone was dealing with the same stress and uncertainties, constant change, and upheaval.  I previously wrote about how I actually received my vaccination because of the kindness of a stranger at the gym.  Finally, just a few weeks ago – masks became history, and going to the gym is not really all that different from what it was two years ago, although trailing evidence lingers.  

I had signed up for training – and spent a healthy sum – in part as a kind of therapy during the isolation of pandemic.  But I also had, admittedly, a dream – maybe even more of a fantasy. We need dreams to cope with darkness; I am a goal driven individual, and I needed something to work towards – to “redeem” this era, to come out of with some result, something concrete to show for the time lost, in a way.  As the gym reopened, and even just during the months where we were limited to outdoor equipment for 50 minutes, waiting in line – I had seen the men who were like so many of the others over the years.  Men with defined bodies, muscles to spare – all the hallmarks that my own peculiar history had engraved in my thinking represented the masculine ideal.  

Actually, I never feel like whoever that is on the left – but he would fit right in at my gym!

As a lonely, shame filled and isolated teen who never really grew out of that mindset – they were everything I aspired to be. Seeing them was partly inspirational – but to a greater degree, discouraging.  Another reminder of my “differentness”, in a way. And I wanted to come out of this experience looking just like them.  It may be a stereotype that gay men are obsessed with physical appearance, but that doesn’t make it false – and culturally the message is still, regardless of sexuality, that your appeal to others and your worth is often perceived as related to your physical appearance – first impressions are based on visual data, of course! 

Would it surprise you to read that things did not go as planned?  In my next post, I will share the results to date.  In a way, they were better than I could have hoped for or imagined, as I began moving on from dream to reality.  

The New NormL, December 2020 – not the end of the story! To be continued …….

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Two Strangers, Two Christmases

I’ve written more than once about how the power of storytelling, especially through film in my own case, can open our eyes to truths we somehow just didn’t see before.  Certainly, I’m a firm believer in the importance of sharing our own true life experiences – honestly, openly in the hopes that others might find encouragement as they pursue their own unique journeys. But, works of fiction, whether in literature, film or other art forms also can bring inspiration – and have done that for me many times in life.  As this will be posted in time for Christmas 2020 – a year without peer, I dare say – my thoughts drift towards two such tales that have very different origins, yet whose primary characters perhaps more in common than one might expect at first glance. 

Charles Dickens created many great works, but for many his most loved is “A Christmas Carol” first published in 1843.  In 2017, a lovely film (not of course entirely factual) gave some insight into how it was created – “The Man who Invented Christmas”, with Christopher Plummer as the Scrooge of Dicken’s creative process. Endless versions and variations have and will continue to be enjoyed long after this year;  the most vivid in my own memory was a one man performance by Patrick Stewart at Cal Tech decades ago complete with multiple characterizations, sound effects and a sense of energy and discovery that he brought to new life. (The full audio performance is available on iTunes, I believe).  

I will never forget seeing this incredible one man performance by Patrick Stewart!

In film, for me, 1970’s “Scrooge” which I first saw in the little Corona theater at age 12 is still a part of my annual celebrations. The musical starring Albert Finney was in many ways a triumph of casting, art, and song – yet it did not initially register with audiences who were more interested in the new cinema of MASH and five easy pieces than a dancing Ebenezer. 

 I bought the soundtrack LP long before VHS made home viewing possible – listening to the songs by Leslie Bricusse, including my personal favorite over the opening credits – a chorus of joy and encouragement.  

Look around about you and see what a world of wonder this world can be! 

It was probably a few years later, in my teens, when (thanks to a gift from my Dad and stepmother of a small black and white tv) that I began to see older films at home, after school.  The ABC affiliate had a 90 minute afternoon movie time slot at 330 – and one day I turned on a black and white film that was spread over two days.  Later, I would see it first “screened” in its entirety at college – then, eventually in theaters in California, and even one December matinee in London, for it’s 50thanniversary.  At first I was mystified why the audience there didn’t seem to love it as much – but, it is a distinctly “American” narrative, made by a director and star who had worked together previously, won Oscars, and both served in World War 2, one as a pilot, the other making films that still are highly regarded for their honest portrayal of that epic struggle.  When they returned home to eventual peacetime, the director wanted to finance his own production – based on a very short story the original author, Philip Van Doren Stern, had included in a 1943 Christmas card to friends – “The Greatest Gift”.  He expanded on the concept and pooled together some of the best talents in Hollywood, including his prior star actor, and built a small town for the location filming.   Perhaps surprisingly it wasn’t a big hit, from an independent production company; and in time, without the licensing and copyright being maintained, the film fell into “public domain”, like the chopped up airing I saw in the 70’s on that little tv.  That circumstance led in time to it being aired so many times, more people saw it, and came to love it – becoming the classic it is today. 

“It’s a Wonderful life” portrayed an America that endured through the Spanish Flu, depression, and World War 2, through the life of its protagonist, George Bailey, in the small town of Bedford Falls. In the years since then, I cannot say how many times, or with how many friends, I have “visited” the Bailey’s and that little town; last year, my husband and I enjoyed a live performance of the score with the film by the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus, which was unforgettable. 

The film “finale” as performed by the Kansas City Symphony and Chorus

 I’ve had the chance to meet Karolyn Grimes, who played “Zuzu”, the little girl in the film; collected memorabilia (and given it away!), and decorated my tree and now our home with reminders of that story.  It is such a perfectly detailed story, of a time, a place, a family and a set of circumstances – challenges, failures, love, disappointment, loss and hope.  But, mostly to me, the message was – your life matters.  Even if you cannot achieve your dreams; even if you never become what you hoped, or others expected – you can make a difference in this world, one that is uniquely yours – one that is irreplaceable. In my lonely teens, escaping to a world where the promise of redemption was realized at Christmas was one way to hope for a better future. And there was one that I could not then see, but was waiting for me. 

In 2006, I gifted Karolyn Grimes (“Zuzu”) this British 50th anniversary poster!

Much has changed in my life in the now 50 years since I sat in that little local cinema for Scrooge; and the decades since I first watched George Bailey jump off a bridge to end his life on that little black and white screen.   Of course, both stories have happy endings – life doesn’t always offer those, or at least at times the possibility of happy endings seems very difficult to imagine.  Perhaps Christmas 2020 is one of those times for many more than usual, in a most unusual year, bleakness dimming the lights on our homes and in our hearts. 

So as our TV plays the familiar voice of Clarence, George, Mary (and, my special friend Bert the Cop) on Amazon Prime while write; and tomorrow, as I join my husband to again enjoy the dancing, singing cast of Scrooge (with Alec Guinness as Marley!), I have a lot of feelings come up.  If you’ve read anything I have blogged about this year, you KNOW I share my feelings – because I hope that reaches others, and does some good, perhaps – a little George Bailey in me trying to get out.  And I realize – Old Ebenezer and George have a lot in common. 

For my bunny lover friends (and I know at least one!) – here is a special treat!

History – not just fiction – tells us that most cultures have representatives of that part of life which we cannot understand, whether we consider it the afterlife, some representative of eternity, or other spiritual beings that exist outside our ability to measure, but – somehow, we sense, or want to sense, their existence.   Perhaps as some suggest this is just our desire to understand what is beyond our comprehension; for others, these beliefs become deeper truths, very personal truths.  Centuries of faiths with various representatives of such spirits have uncounted stories which most of us will never read or otherwise enter our thinking.  The 3 spirits of Christmas that visit Ebenezer, and the angel hoping to “earn his wings” that answers the prayers reaching heaven as George considers ending his life in despair, are such beings.  Outside forces that enter the lives of two very different men, both on Christmas eve, in very different times and places. 

If you ever wanted to visit “Bedford Falls” – here is one option …… I hope to one day!

Ebenezer, of course, was a selfish, bitter man, hated by many;  Dickens suggests that the spirits visit him because Marley hopes that will save his only friend in life from a similar, doomed fate.  George, a beloved husband, father and citizen who, through his character as much as through his deeds, touched the lives of so many in his small town, had reached a place of hopelessness; through an act of selfishness by Mr. Potter, a “modern day” Ebenezer of post war America, he stumbles onto a bridge hoping to end the life he sees as wasted as the only way to escape his own, undeserved fate.  The spirits help Scrooge, and Clarence helps George, see his life (and the lives of others around them) from a new perspective – and to realize that they want to embrace life anew.    

Many of us know what despair feels like.  Right now, many of our friends and family may be suffering through it, perhaps not with our awareness; trying to find hope.  In other posts, I have talked about some of those periods in my life; thinking back about those who helped me, who either reached out in love or responded to my own seeking of a new way to move ahead, they were the “spirits” helping me to see there was a promise of a better life, perhaps not obvious or easy, but possible.  I remember a counselor sharing with me about the concept of “liminality” – not something I am qualified to explain, but I feel applies in some way to the experience of both our Christmas Eve characters, and perhaps you and I as well. 

The ending you always wanted to see, but Frank Capra left out!

If you look online, where of course there are MANY interpretations of just about any philosophical concept, you can explore perspectives (here is one) on liminality.  I recall that from a purely anthropological sense, the “liminal” state is that “in between” – the middle stage of a “rite of passage”, or a period of growth and becoming.   In religious traditions, similar concepts exist – a stage from separation, between beginnings and the future.  For our two (eventual) heroes, Eb and George – Christmas Eve became a liminal space, in a way – a place between what was, and what could be.  Where spirits could speak to them, and minds, hearts and souls could be open to new understanding.  

I wish I was learned enough, and literate enough, to bring home some insight, awareness to share from these musings with you; all I find I am able to do is to open the door, or perhaps a small window.  To say – or ask – what are the lessons that I learn, that you can learn (or share with someone you love who needs that more than ever at this very instant) – to be open to this moment, now.  To know there is a possible waiting for discovery; a Christmas morn where the presents are not wrapped in paper, but in a renewed spirit that awakens and cries, just like a child at birth, and embraces the future, in faith.  These are OUR unexpected turning points.

To my “Angels” and guiding spirits – THANK YOU for lifting my heart!!

For now, I can only, as always, share what little I have to offer – the thought comes, “to play my drum” for you, perhaps, on this Christmas.  To remember the words of fictional characters that still represent real truths – from George Bailey, his prayer of despair – 

Answers to prayer may not come in the form we expect ……

And from Tiny Tim – not at the triumphant end of the tale, but during the “Christmas Present” where his family struggles with little food, and he is living what the Spirit shows Scrooge is his final Christmas – despite all their travails, faith –

By the immortal Norman Rockwell

Wherever you are today – know, there is hope.  For you – and for you to share.  Until next time – Merry Christmas, and wishes that the New Year brings new joys, discoveries – and renewal, for us all. 

Christmas 2019 – SF Symphony Hall – God Bless us, Everyone!
Thank YOU for reading my blog, as I finish 2020 – see you NEXT YEAR!!!

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No thanks – but thanks – in 2020

Yes, it’s been nearly half a month since Thanksgiving, I know! Why am I so “late” in writing?  Well, I prefer to think that I needed to get to the right place and time to express something worth offering to you – and, perhaps, to discover for myself.  As I go through my reflective/creative process for sharing here, which (like me) is evolving, I often achieve some realizations, awareness, about the issues that are “troubling the waters” of my soul.  There seems to be more troubling of the water, these days.  Some of my friends might be surprised at how much I struggle, daily, and have for many years, with inner conflicts, doubts, depression and uncertainty.  Whether online – here, Facebook – or in person (or zoom!), it’s not that the words I share, or the photos, are not from my heart – they are deeply sincere – but my day to day existence does not always match my aspirations.  

But I have been thinking about thankfulness, gratitude, where it fits in my life – how easy it is to set aside or pretend and just go through the motions.   In reality, choosing to be and express thankfulness is HARD WORK! But also, a very powerful, even life changing force. At last, for now, here are my own small reconsiderations, and reflections on that subject. Or, as an alternate title – “A heaping plate of regrets and a side of disappointment does not make for a pleasant dinner”.

This is not the Thanksgiving you want to have … but it would be memorable!

Even though I am sure anyone reading this has enough weighing on their hearts and is not seeking to focus on my challenges, I am convinced anything I have of value to share are the lessons for which I paid dearly, whether in blood, sweat or tears – that our mistakes offer more room for growth to lead to hopefully our triumphs.  And I know others are like me – struggling to focus on having a positive attitude, expectations and hopes after so many months of, well, everything.  But in that struggle, somehow, the beacon of grabbing onto gratitude in the midst of disappointment still calls out to me. 

I wonder, in my early morning sleep deprived ruminations, what role does the giving of thanks play in our lives today?  What meaning does it have?  If we do not personally believe in what is generically termed a “higher power”, however we frame or conceptualize that – does giving thanks and prayer have any substantive value in our lives?  Are we just begging for help out of desperation, hoping there is someone, something “out there” that will “deliver us from evil”,  eliminate COVID, wipe out our political enemies who so clearly wrong about whatever we are what so clearly right on, and bring back everything we loved about our lives while somehow vanishing the problematic social, economic and other nasty realities we just want to exclude from our awareness?  Or do we just want our “old lives” back – and in the case of far too many, the lives of our loved ones taken from us, struggling to reconcile our grief with our faith. 

Oh, sure, I can put on the “attitude of gratitude” for a while, to fool myself, or maybe appear to for others. It is so very, very easy to mouth the platitudes that I was taught from an early age, whether they be prayers, or songs, or sayings – being thankful for family, food, shelter.  I am very aware that in the larger reality of population I am among the most fortunate of humans, in terms of basic needs, care, and more.  But just saying words is not enough – it is not from the heart.  Perhaps anger and frustration from the heart are more powerful, more real than the practiced pleasant statements that we feel we are expected to include in our traditional gatherings.  Soaking our hearts daily in anger and frustration is like a poison that seeps into every aspect of life.   Our hearts began to be choked into silence by the thorns of despair. 

I have felt like this too much lately … but as I am discovering, there is another way.

So if I was to describe my Thanksgiving – we (my husband and I, and our two cats) followed our local guidelines, and spent the day without in person contact with family or friends, with a low key meal (we are not the chefs that some of our friends exemplify), zooming instead, and enjoying some entertainment.  In many ways, it was a lovely day.  But underneath the traditions, I am dealing with the same frustrations, anger, fears and uncertainties that swirl around us all, daily.   And in that, in the quiet moments when my heart puts all the chaos briefly on pause, somehow, the thought of gratitude keeps bubbling up, saying – “remember me”.  

And I have been trying to do just that.  To remember what it is like to be truly grateful; to think about what that means, when there is so much going on that seems to be coming from someone else’s nightmare, day after day after day.  I try to turn off the news but find myself obsessively checking websites for the latest edict, the latest data, and the latest projections of doom and death.   I juggle that with planning when to go to the store, when to manage our limited time outside the house, and, oh yes, Christmas!  Because I am not going to lose Christmas, dammit! (Try to picture me saying that with a smile, at least in part!) 

2020 has been the year of unwanted presents – but also unexpected gifts

Yet I sense that the way ahead – whether it is “through”, or “out of”, this current state of frustration is not changing the situation – not getting the reality I want – but accepting, embracing the reality I have.  It’s sort of like reaching for something but you can’t because you are too burdened with what you are throttling, trying to choke the life out of, or dragging along with you – you haven’t released it.  If this sounds similar to an entry a few months ago – you are probably right.  I may be circling the same water because I never stopped to taste it.  

I was raised in the traditional Christian church of the 60’s. I didn’t stay in it; I questioned what I was taught versus what I could see in people’s lives; I couldn’t conform to what I felt was expected of me. I don’t have a background in world religions, but I sense that whatever truths about human nature, the way we are built, the way we learn and grow, are central to many faiths.  After all, in many ways, we are a single race, mixed in innumerous cultures and subcultures, families, neighborhoods, classes.  But all of us, in some way, are trying to reach for something we sense but cannot name.   The answers may be unknowable, for us, today.  But the broader truth may be that we must embrace what we have now, make peace with it, yes, even love it and give thanks for it, to be free to move on. 

It’s as though we are trapped in a room and cannot see the door because we are so desperately trying to break through the walls. Think of yourself as a battery – you have energy stored in you; it goes away; but it can also be replenished.  That energy has a focus, where you are centralizing your attention.  If it is on all the things you are frustrated with, it goes into that and produces – probably next to nothing, other than perhaps more frustration for you and those in your life.  Acknowledging our inability to change something is not what my culture taught me. 

Yet, however contradictory it may seem, I sense that it is in a deeper, daily acceptance of our current reality – through giving thanks, gratitude, whatever you want to call it (and to whomever or whatever you wish to express it) – which allows us to eventually be freed from the expectations, demands, fantasies and dreams that we cannot achieve. They have been so deeply woven into our focus, priorities and purpose that they become a cocoon, eve a prison perhaps.  Focusing on our disappointment prevents us from seeing that the path we wanted to take is not the path before us.   We have fixated on the walls of our cell that we want to escape so firmly that we are blind to the doorways which were there all along. 

If the way ahead is not apparent, we must be open to the unexpected and undiscovered

To put it another way – Accepting, truly and completely making peace with the reality we would like to change (and our expectation that we cannot be otherwise whole) allows us to see choices we that were once invisible.  We cannot fully see the possible while we cling to the wished for or expected.  Creating an equilibrium of peace in our current state opens our eyes, and hearts, to new possibilities. 

I am sure those familiar with the history of philosophy can identify the origins of just about any perspective we might take today – I don’t pretend to know those facts.  I just am trying to listen to my heart, and to something outside of myself speaking to me there.  Surely many are familiar with the 12 step programs, initially formalized with AA, and the Serenity prayer in all it’s iterations – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.   I have learned that we do not always share the same challenges, or purpose, or destiny, or understanding – and we cannot let someone else tell us what ours must be.  We have to find our own way, as individuals, and yet – together.  But we are all facing a lot of what we cannot change today, and we all need serenity, equilibrium – stilling the waters of our souls. 

If you google “gratitude quotes” you’ll find an endless listing of helpful websites.  Two rang true with me today, as I work to bring these thoughts to a close.  First, Charles Dickens, whose own life was far from problem free (here is an excellent profile), but whose words still bring hope to readers around the globe in so many cultures – 

And, author Melody Beattie, whose work is not familiar to me but who has written on addiction related issues and provided helpful insights to many – there is no “one size fits all”, of course – 

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Melody Beattie (follow this link for more) on gratitude
In the process of trying to understand what I cannot know … I discover, anew

Thanks for sitting with me for a while, and for reading my little thoughts.  I hope something here may ring true for you – give you some “food for thought” as a post-Thanksgiving feast for the soul (well, maybe a snack, then).  As challenging as times are, the process of focusing on gratitude gives me hope – and that’s something we all need to find, and share, everyday more than ever.  

Until next time – be safe, and find hope – for yourself, and to share. It’s out there!

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Beyond the stars on a magic carpet

This week I was freed. 

We’d been exposed to COVID courtesy of a visiting home repairman whose brief stop to pick up a check led to receiving a call less than 48 hours later, courtesy of SF city health. We were to quarantine with testing and daily monitoring by phone for two weeks. Happily, our initial tests were both clear, and again just before our ultimate release.  I chose to celebrate by daring to indulge in an experience few else were pursuing these days. 

I’m calling to your memories. I’m asking you to think back as far as you can — a moment long ago when you sat with a roomful of mostly strangers, and the lights dimmed to darkness, and the room hushed as everyone around you became quiet.  Perhaps you heard a fanfare, the curtains opened – revealing a shiny silvery screen, and beams of light bringing to your eyes a vision. 

No one reading this today was present 125 years ago when, shortly after Christmas, two brothers created a public gathering that transformed the world. Louis and Augusta Lumiere charged one franc each to 33 Parisians to watch less than 10 minutes of silent film.  They had not invented the film process but did create their unique mechanism for projection to a paying audience.  This very first commercial film screening soon resulted in their opening a chain of local “cinemas”, and in time to the world. 

Moments from a century of film magic, in less than 5 minutes

Although I do not think it was my first movie, my first movie memory was going to the old Corona theater in 1966 with my older brother, I was 8, he was 10 and the scenes of the fire engulfing the forest ignited not only the screen but my imagination.  In the more than 5 decades since I have no idea how many films I have seen; many in the theater, but also on Tv, or college retrospectives, then in time VHS rentals, laserdiscs, and DVDs – but always, always I knew movies were their best in a dark cinema. 

The visions, dreams, stories and songs, were a place I could escape. Where I could find hope, joy, and worlds of adventure for a dollar matinee and a bike ride. In time, I would attend previews, revivals and world premieres; visiting Grauman’s Chinese, the movie palaces of downtown LA built by Charlie Chaplin and countless visits to multiplexes, many now converted to retail or RV showrooms or torn down. 

A 1953 movie premiere at the Chinese – the “golden age” – before my time.

I was often – correction, nearly always – alone, even in a crowded theater. Sometimes I would chat with strangers about the film as we waited, but most were with others, and I was more comfortable waiting for the lights to dim and to leave my neighbors behind. I learned about the artists of screenwriting, direction, production design, editing, scoring and of course the stars. My parents in shared their memories – my Mom of trips to see musicals (and going on a bowling double date with Mickey Rooney), my Dad of being terrified by Karloff as the Frankenstein monster. In time I took my younger brother to Superman and Star Wars; and his first R rated movie, Die Hard; more recently, with his wife and kids, and now my husband, to see even more Star Wars.  Funny how I can remember many of these screenings, theaters, and those times when others enjoyed or hated the film along with me as we chatted after some blockbuster or art film. Too many memories to begin to share – and in recent years, new memories with my husband, a reality beyond even my own romance inspired imagination that no screenwriter could have sold to a studio. 

But earlier this year, of course, no new memories could be created. Theaters like our beautiful Castro, dark for months for the first time in its nearly century long life. Others closed forever, now; chains in bankruptcy, studios ceasing production and deferring release, selling new films direct to Amazon that had been created for audiences to enjoy in the crowded darkness, their drinks and popcorn left in cases. The seats cold.  Like so many lives and businesses – the future uncertain, but the present, silent – more so than any DW Griffith epic or Harold Lloyd comedy. The lights off, the doors locked.

If you EVER get a chance again … go to the Castro Theater. History, magic and more.

Recently, the powers that be in their unknowable wisdom deigned it safe to allow some there to reopen. Sadly, here in SF most remain shuttered; unlike their neighboring cities, they are not being allowed to sell refreshments, which for years has been the only source of profits, especially for independent cinemas; the studios take most of the ticket cut, which is more meager than ever.  Somehow, other sources of food and drink are safe, including restaurants recently reopened for indoor service, but that part of the cinema experience is not permitted here – and so our local theaters remain dark for now. 

But nearby cities had been screening for a few weeks, and now that I could at last get out, I knew exactly what I wanted to see! With all the closures and delays in movie releases, most of the “summer blockbusters” were, well, either not summer, or bust. But one filmmaker whose works have always been creative, and sometimes breathtaking, insisted his project be released in theaters as planned – if delayed – and I wanted very much to see Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” in IMAX.   A theater nearby, south of the city itself, had it on IMAX matinee for the final day the first day of my “release” – and my husband having opted out, I drove to the BART parking structure adjacent.  Usually crowded up to multiple levels, it was nearly deserted – as was the sidewalk past the some open, some closed eateries featuring pizzas, ice cream, sandwiches and more.My ticket was “touchless” with an assigned seat, no adjacent viewers – in fact, only 4 seats were showing as sold that morning out of the entire theater.  The concession area was open, but semi deserted – and entering the theater itself, a hand cleansing station greeted me as I found my seat in silence.  There was no typical “pre-show” with ads, promotions, etc. – but a few “previews of coming attractions” with dates that have now been pushed into 2021.  

You don’t need my evaluation of the film itself – there are plenty of those online.  Rather, I invite you to remember what it was like to go, perhaps with a date, or your family, or a group of friends, to see some film you love to watch even today – whether it was Forrest Gump or Star Wars, James Bond or a Disney classic.  The joy you felt, or the fear or surprises you shared; the music that soared.  These were magic carpets taking us to new worlds in the dark;  showing us what life might have to offer, promising us a future we might never know, and for some, the promise of what discovering what it is to love, be loved, and even lose love. We may see ourselves, or perhaps not – perhaps we will get a glimpse of who we want to become. Films are not always a true representation of life, but they capture the energy of our spirit in a way that combines imagery, sound, story and more that is unique to sitting in that dark room, climbing on the carpet, and letting it take us where it will.  When the ride ends, and we walk out, we may not remember those moments consciously – but they are a part of our common cultural heritage now.  

Perhaps you recall the wonderful, Oscar winning theme music for “Chariots of Fire” created by Vangelis. He also had several albums as part of the team “Jon and Vangelis” – one, “The Friends of Mr. Cairo”, is titled for their evocative, and very lengthy, tribute to how film captures our spirits, our hearts, and creates a shared experience that can last a lifetime.  Of course, it refers to “The Maltese Falcon” but moves into other moments that you may recognize as well.  

Silent gold movies, talkies, technicolor, long ago; my younger ways stand clearer, clearer than my footprints. Stardom greats I’ve followed closely, closer than the nearest heartbeat; longer than expected – they were great. Oh love oh love; just to see them; acting on the silver screen, oh my. Clark Gable, Fairbanks, Maureen O’Sullivan; fantasy would fill my life – and I love fantasy so much. Did you see? In the morning light? I really talked, yes I did, to God’s early morning light – and I was privileged then, as I am to this day, to be with you.

Closing lyrics, “Friends of Mr. Cairo”, Jon and Vangelis, 1981.

I hope you will take the time to view this in one sitting, quietly – the creator of this video clearly loves the music, and the films, and melded the two into this hymn to how films find a place deep in our hearts. 

Turn off the lights, turn off the world around you, and remember what it is to dream.

My wish for you is that one day, perhaps soon but one day, you will again be able to enjoy a movie you love – whether new, or old – in a darkened theater full of strangers, on a screen larger than any in your home, without distraction, and with all the popcorn and soda you have missed.  I hope Bob and I, with our friends and families, will have those moments ahead as well, at the Castro theater with it’s beautiful pipe organ and cavernous edifice, inviting passersby “Come, enter the temple – see the light dance and the hear the angels sing”. The flickering spirits are waiting for you to join them again in the darkness.  As my old film mentors Siskel and Ebert used to say every Sunday evening on TV as they shared thoughts on what magic film offers us – save me the aisle seat. 

Six months, 25 posts, and the future

Do you ever put off doing things? I sure do. Especially the things that I think I don’t know how to do, or may not do well. I put off starting this blog for a long time after the idea entered my head; I put off actually posting for nearly 4 months after I paid the WordPress subscription in November of 2019. I had just the month prior made the decision to end my ongoing job search and retire early; in large part that was driven by my desire to spend more time with my husband and building our life together rather than another few years of professional employment.

Photo by Darwis Alwan on Pexels.com

But, I finally started writing – six months ago, yesterday. And I knew that there were a few other things I had put off – like getting more familiar with WordPress “mechanics”, how to show things on the table of contents, how to make it a little easier for visitors to see what I was sharing. So, this morning, with a goal of getting that long on my to do list item finished, I toyed with WordPress a bit – exploring, getting lost, getting frustrated but … getting back on board and sticking with it.

You know, it’s a good feeling to do something you have put off. This summer I spent many hours on a home improvement project that most will never see or notice; but it’s just about done, and our life is a little better for it. I have a lot left to learn about using WordPress, and writing; about guiding people to my site, or promoting it (thank you, followers I have never met, I am humbled!).

But learning is what keeps life challenging, I think. As we have political discussions with friends – which unfortunately seems to be the gigantic gravitational center of all thought these days – I often remark that questioning what we believe, our priorities and choices is a lot harder than just doing what we did the day before. And hey, maybe that’s great for now – maybe that’s all we can do. I am grateful, and challenged, to have the luxury (or burden?) of time to reconsider my focus – how to spend the precious hours of this day, and the unknown number of days to come.

We cannot take the number of days ahead for granted – never could, but maybe we believed it and now realize that untruth. Last week, my husband and I were exposed to Covid, six months after all the guidelines we followed, and precautions we took, by a visiting home improvement representative who felt ill the next day and went for a test. Less than 48 hours after his short stop to check out our kitchen needs and plan for the beginning of work, we had each received a call from SF City health that we needed to quarantine for two weeks, and test; less than 6 hours after that call, we were at a Kaiser drive through for a memorable swabbing session, and soon on our way home.

For whatever reason, my husband’s negative test results arrived a little more than a day later – but mine did not. More than 30 hours after his email, I finally got a notice at 3 am on a Monday morning that I too was negative; it was a relief, but that gap in communication left me with many thoughts about its implications. Thankfully, we have no symptoms, and in roughly 6 more days we will again be “free” to roam our still mostly shuttered streets, and visit the socially distanced by reservation only gym, and maybe even in time to go see a movie. These are all things we took for granted a few months ago, and yet for some on our globe, are pleasures they might never know. If nothing else, this is a time to nature our appreciation for the gifts we hold today.

But I thought during those 30 hours, and since, again about my priorities. One of our cats has a habit of “campaigning” for his canned food dinner earlier each day – wandering, following, and letting us (mostly, me, since I open the cans) know that he is ready. For up to two hours ahead of time, some days – and then, in moments, his enjoyment of the food itself is over. And I see this in myself, and perhaps we all do it – waiting, yearning, longing and dreaming for something we so desperately want, or think we need – and then, perhaps that experience comes, that dream comes true – and it is over. We put so much time into it, and it passes – and life goes on.

Today, we are all longing for something imminent – maybe for some it is the election and a hoped for change or end to whatever antagonizes us most at the moment; for others, a “return to normal” that probably is never going to be fully realized – the new world is going to be shifting in ways we cannot predict, and in ways we may not even see as they come to pass. I certainly have my frustrations with both; and yet the best I can manage my life right now, for me, my husband, and my loved ones who I cannot be with at the moment, is to just do what I can do now and move on.

So, six months in to my little blog, after 25 entries, and countless hours of thought and reflection, I feel a glimmer of anticipation of where “The New NormL” goes from here. Between thought, writing, reflection and the mechanics of creating a post (along with the learning curve), the amount of time I spend on these posts is, well, more than you might guess. Foremost, my priority remains our shared lives, building what we have and like everyone else just trying to manage the details; but writing here, for you few who read these words, has been in a way both clarifying and freeing for me. So, there will be more to share, although I sense I may be shifting my focus, or my approach, a bit over time. There is much to explore in our world, wonderful things to discover and give to others in turn, when we open our eyes. I will continue to write from the heart, about the present, past and future, and my weird little questions and peculiar explorations – in the hopes that some of what I share will resonate with those few who may find encouragement from my words.

A friend asked me recently if I had changed my blog format a bit, having noticed some of the photos, links etc. that I was tweaking (and which will continue). I think the most noticeable is probably the now routine inclusion of the portrait you see below, although I think I often used the words shown in closing many posts. Those words are both a sentimental wish, and an imperative I try to achieve – imperfectly. We all strive towards ideals we cannot reach, but in that effort, we get closer. Keep on climbing; lend a hand to others near you on that path, or their own – you may not share the same goals, or much else, but we all share the same hopes and needs. Thank you for spending some time with me here – I look forward to our next visit.

Talk to the chair

As I have written the past few months, I have been gifted with very kind and encouraging feedback.  Strangers have started to subscribe to my blog; I hope it is because there is something that touched them or encouraged them.  But my family and friends have, at times, expressed concern – that my sharing, my openness and recollection may be stirring more pain within myself.  Their words are, I am certain, coming from love, and I appreciate and understand their responses. 

It’s absolutely true that writing from the heart is sometimes very difficult; it takes a lot of soul searching, and sifting through repeatedly, trying to determine what is the hoped for “wisdom” that I might share from my experiences.  My goal is not to evoke sympathy or pity, but by honestly opening up about some of my history, to provide you, the reader – whether you know me, or never meet me – something that you can grasp and use, that you can say – yes, yes, there is a truth here, a discovery that has meaning, in your life, now.  My reward – your gain from the price I paid.

I have realized the past few weeks that one of the most difficult entries I shared needed … a sequel. A follow up to show that what I laid bare in those words back in May led to something better, in my life – peace, in my heart, and hopefully in time through that for others in my circle, through how we care for one another.  Ripples in the pond between our joined lives, wherever they may connect.

“Sometimes I cry when I see the boys” original post here ……

The title of that May post, taken from one of my father’s letters to my Mom, revealed bluntly some of the less than wonderful, far from ideal facts about my relationship with my Dad.  Some aspects, not all – there were chapters to our shared lives that there is no point in shining a light on here, which impacted not only me, but other family members. Our shattered natures often lead to chasms, and in my case, there was a period of several years where, except for my Mom, my direct family was not present in my life.  But despite those moments, which were desperately painful in many ways – in time, there was healing.  Today, I realize how important it is to share some of how that came about, with you – for whatever meaning it might have in perhaps not your own relationships, but possibly someone you love, or someone you have yet to meet.  

We do things to protect our bruised and wounded hearts.  We hide, we bury, we put on emotional masks and learn to present the self we want others to see, to love and accept.  Yes, in my case there were elements that had not only to do with the deepest parts of how I connect with others, but also very old, and very fully woven into my spirit, habits of thought and feeling.  In my work with the first counselor who helped me come to a place of greater acceptance and understanding of grace than what I had been taught, I grew into new freedoms.  In time, I sought out another counselor, one who could relate more fully from his own experience and insight to my history; his name was Patrick.  He passed a few years ago, but he gave me a gift to share, and I will do my best, today. 

I make no apologies for my upbringing in faith, knowing full well that many have different backgrounds, beliefs and understandings – finding comfort in accepting that I will never have all the answers, and don’t need to beyond those which work for me, and bring me to a place of continuing to grow in caring and acceptance of others who enter my life.  Patrick was not a particularly spiritual person; in fact, I would go so far as to say he might have described himself as agnostic.  But he accepted that a huge portion of the challenges I faced to growth was reconciling what I had been taught, what I desired and felt, and that finding some balance between those was critical for my own peace of mind. He respected what was important to me. 

What came as a surprise to me was his insights, in time, into my father’s alcoholism; Patrick was very experienced in addiction treatment, theory and related issues.  I did not feel that addiction was a problem in my life; I had been studious to avoid drink for many reasons; I was well aware that studies indicated there were genetic factors that impact predisposition to intergenerational addictive behaviors.  Eventually I came to realize that there were other escape routes that I had learned to embrace, that did not provide the answers I sought; they were not to be found in a bottle but had their own power over me.  I suspect we all face those illusory mirages of hope at times; our culture, and many others, is filled with stories of miracles and magic that at their best create unrealistic desires for wish fulfillment, and at their worst, deception and destruction.  Sometimes even in the “answers” that we turn to for hope, disappointment lurks.  Turning from those false solutions to truth is not an easy process. 

I did not think that my father’s alcoholism was an ongoing issue for me; by the time I began working with Patrick, it was maybe 6 years since Dad’s passing; I was “out”, I was making friends, and dealing with the stresses of everyday life.  But Patrick recognized in me the echoes of the ravages of disfunction, and the coping habits which at the time seemed to protect me, which actually were now working against a fuller life.  He recommended an extremely technical volume on addiction, and I am thankful for his faith in my intellect to work through it – I began to see that my own behaviors were built in some ways on a foundation of just surviving those problems that impacted me deeply at a young age, but which I still carried long after those years into my ongoing life – and they were not working for me, but against me. 

But what really surprised me was his suggestion that I spend a week at the Betty Ford program in Palm Desert, CA. 

Betty Ford, whose Center, now joined with Hazelden, still changes lives

Now, before you jump to conclusions (I sure did, initially), know this – he felt it would give me insight to attend “family week”, not the program itself – a sort of “day camp” for those whose loved ones were in the residential program could learn about their own behavior and how to support their family member after they left the facility.  Of course – my father was not in the facility – but Patrick knew the administrator and after discussion with them, I agreed to attend for a 5-day program.  We reviewed a lot of material about the nature of addiction, but also heard presentations by experts in the field, about codependence and how the family unit is impacted, short term and long term, by the damage and pain they seek relief from. 

I felt out of place; I was newly “out”, trying to deal with a lot in my own personal life, and facing some pretty severe challenges in my career as well.  The others in the program, well, they were pretty – “normal”, I guess – parents, spouses, children.  I did not feel connected with them at all.  And then, there was the fact that I was the only one who had no family in the program itself; once again, in more than one ways, I was reminded of my differentness, my outsider status. 

One of the key components of the week, for everyone but me, was for them to sit down with their loved one who was a residential participant, and have an honest discussion – sharing their feelings; being open; being vulnerable;  trying to find a bridge ahead for everyone in the family, patient and supporters.  I was impressed with the program, and more so with their courage – but again, I felt – weird.  The administrator had told me that participating in one of the central aspects of the program was up to me …. Did I want to have an opportunity to talk?  Not with the other participants – we did some of that, for sure, in the program; but … with my father.  No, not in some “séance”; but in a way that would allow me to express what I felt, what I carried inside, that I never had with him, fully, in real life. 

In the last year of his life, after the passing of both my stepmother and mother, we had built bridges; my Dad had accepted my coming out, and as I will share more fully in another entry one day, he supported me in ways that no one else in my family could, or perhaps would, as we both dealt with our individual grief as best we were able.   In a way, we healed together. After his passing, and all that had happened in my life in the years since, I didn’t think there was ground left to cover; but I talked with Patrick – and decided I needed whatever I could get from this program, from this experience, that I could take with me into the future.  For me. 

So I said “yes”. After the other “family sharing” times were pretty much complete – I sat down, surrounded by a circle of strangers who knew a little, but not much, of my life and challenges – facing an empty chair.  I cannot tell you today exactly what came out of my mouth, or shall I say my heart – it was painful; there were tears.  There was release.  But I promise you this – for me, my Dad was sitting there.  He heard me;  we connected.  As I told him from those deeply wounded parts of my own childhood spirit still hovering inside me, as they do for us all, the pain of what had happened began to be, somehow, released; and being surrounded by, as some might say, “clouds of witnesses” whose own journey might be not entirely similar but not entirely different – I knew, finally – I was not alone.  There was nothing wrong with me, back in those years, or in that moment where we connected, somehow, even across the barrier of eternity. 

And from there … I moved on; I grew, and still am. I tell you honestly, even just in writing this to you – there is healing. There are still tears, but I know now tears are not my enemy. 

At the time, I did not talk of these events with hardly anyone in my life; family reading this now, may be disappointed I did not share with them.  But I am sharing with you because …. In writing about my father’s pain; his issues, his failures – first, it was important to say there was more to him than those disappointments. There is more to all of us, even though we too have let others down; we have caused our loved ones disappointment.  I was given a chance to find some peace in a way I would never have thought possible.  Yes, there were moments of reconciliation while he was still living;  but in a way, I believe, my experience illustrates that it is never too late to reach into our own hearts and search, through sludge and mire, through all the lies we embraced and the shadows we hid behind – to walk forward, in forgiveness.  

As I get older, retired now, much of my life now consists of quieter times, especially staying at home and not seeing our family and friends as much; perhaps particularly because I am somewhat the family historian, and going through old papers and photos brings up memories. I appreciate the loving concern of those of you who read some of my entries and wonder if sharing these moments might not be worth the cost, emotionally, to me in writing them.  My answer is a resounding YES – if only one person out there finds some encouragement, some hope in what you are facing today because my words somehow ring true for you – yes, yes yes. I did not always have someone in my life at the darkest times; I know what loneliness and desperation are.  There is HOPE.  I found it – believe me friends, you can too.  It is there, waiting.

One does not have to be a member of the Christian faith, or part of that heritage that has become buried under countless traditions, arguments and myths – to see the wisdom of the words that have been called “the beatitudes”.  I am sure there are similar passages in other faiths, perhaps some that have meaning for you that I will never hear.  Those words, spoken on a hill to a crowd that came with their own hopes of miracles, freedoms, or promised deliverance – that did not, for most, come to pass they way they expected, and for the Teacher, led to a painful end of life – they hold for many a kind of mystical poetic power beyond understanding.  This is why I am reminded of the passage in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verse 9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”.  These few words are quietly nestled between similar blessings for those who are pure of heart, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.   And yet – of all these words now called the “sermon on the mount”, of all the characteristics that are described and the outcomes promised for those who embrace them – I only now realize that only the peacemaker has the blessing of joining in harmony with the very nature, the essence, of God.  Children, of God. 

Over the years, I, like you perhaps, have questioned most of what I was taught to simply accept, including translation, historical accuracy, documentation and the impact of mostly now forgotten ancient traditions in interpreting what we call “scripture”.  But for me … I believe there is a special kind of peace in seeking reconciliation.  With those in our life now; with those no longer in our life; and with that Power, however we define it, that exists outside the scope of our comprehension and understanding, for now at least, perhaps forever.  We may sense those aspects of a larger spirit that we struggle to put into words, in whatever language – faith, hope, love, forgiveness; reaching out, to make peace, when we can – in what little way we are able. 

We cannot always reconcile, or find peace, with everyone in our life; it’s not fully within our power.  But our willingness to seek it out, is. The realization that the making of that effort is of itself a reflection of the very nature of the Eternal, of our spirit, and that which exists outside time itself – came to life for me, facing a seemingly empty chair, in a room filled with strangers I never saw again.  Perhaps there is a chair you need to face – even if, like mine, empty for now.

Today I know and appreciate the love – imperfect but real – of my father in a way I was unable to grasp before those moments of healing.  We each have our own seasons and paths in life; we must choose for ourselves as best we can and trust that in time good will come of it.  I know there remain bridges to be built, and I have hope they can and will be.  Thank you for taking the time to listen to this moment of my journey, as I continue hopefully to grow.  Perhaps my words will give you hope, as well.   Blessed be, indeed, the peacemakers, all of us, children of God.  

An unexpected eclipse, a missing Key, and the fragility of heritage

Last week I shared about my solo sojourn through the heritage of “Cow Hollow” on what became a record-breaking hot summer Sunday.  In my continued resolve to both explore San Francisco’s less familiar corners and to get out into our gradually opening city again, I looked into the recently resumed walking tours offered again by SF city guides.  This wonderful program is slowly adding its newly revised offerings – outside only, 8 or less participants, masks and distancing – and I chose to begin with a tour of one of San Francisco’s Crown Jewels as it celebrates 150 years – quite unexpectedly on a day unlike any other within memory. 

An early map of Golden Gate Park, not so different from today’s tour

The “Mid Park Ramble” tour promised a look at hidden gems of Golden Gate park.  I had spent many hours and miles running – well, jogging – through the park in early 2018 after my move here, preparing for my first “half marathon” in several years to celebrate my own 60th birthday that spring.  But there were points on this tour I had not seen, and so I bought my advance ticket online and looked forward to sharing new vistas with you here.  The plans for the sesquicentennial had been announced months before, and like every other expectation for this year, were derailed by the COVID restrictions; portion of the park streets were closed to traffic, but this journey outside scheduled for 10 am began not with the warm sunshine of just a few days prior – but near darkness – almost like a day long eclipse. The cause was a combination of smoke, weather conditions and fog, combining to create a deep orange haze that extended throughout the day.   Oddly, the smell of smoke was not as noticeable as it had been a few days prior, with greater heat. 

Before I begin reporting about the outing itself, I would like to share with you from a recent guidebook purchase – although it was the purchase that was recent, not the book itself.  After all the insights I had gleaned in my prior excursion from the historic hikes book I shared from last week, I was inspired to look for older books that could give me an idea of the San Francisco that once was but is now, if still present, obscured.  One of the first to arrive from my online shopping spree was the 1914 “Chamber of Commerce Handbook for San Francisco” shown here – featuring a photo of the statue of Junipero Serra that until recently stood in the Park itself.  Let me share what this wonderful little book had to say about our exploration location more than 100 years ago – 

What a wonderful time capsule – I will be sharing more in times to come!

“Here one sees the healthy life and leisure of the community.  San Franciscans use their park.  The drives swarm with fine equipages, fast motors, and ruddy-face lovers of good horse-flesh bound for the speedway in wire-wheeled sulkies. Youth rides the bridle paths.  Groups of children are rolling and tumbling about the lawns, for there is not a “Keep -off-the Grass” sign in the whole thousand acres”. 

The streets we traverse today bear names not known then – John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Nancy Pelosi.  And some of the history and culture then celebrated and welcomed is no longer visible – the Park had been in the news prominently nationally just a few months prior, when a group of people took action to pull down statues and memorials that they found unacceptable based on their own values and similar actions happening around the country.  I had watched the video on the news like many of you, seeing sculptures of various historical figures torn down and destroyed, but I admit – I had not paid them much attention on prior visits.  

The effect of the smoke and still air, combined with the greenery of the Park, left the skies darker than twilight the evening before.  Having arrived early, I took some photos in the open area between the DeYoung Museum and the previously added “Observation wheel” that was to be a hallmark of the year long festivities.   A note on my photos, taken with my iPhone – many that were published online which you may have seen did not capture fully the eerie shades in the sky, due to the “auto correct” programming of most devices;  those of mine that are “darker” were taken in panoramic mode, which I believe captured the color more fully.  In that sense, I guess I got lucky! 

From left – observation wheel, Academy of Sciences, Music concourse

No matter where you stand in the Park, there are echoes of history surrounding you. This panoramic shot of the central park area stretches from the observation wheel past the illuminated California Academy of Sciences erected in 2008 to the Music concourse which was added in 1889.  As I looked towards the soon to reopen DeYoung Museum facing this area, I saw another statue that had previously escaped my notice – and I promise you, I didn’t even realize it was naked until I saw my photos at home, it was that dark!  But I wondered about its origin, seemingly out of place near the modern museum – learning later that it was an 1881 bronze of a roman centurion commemorating the “first shovelful of earth” turned in preparing for the California Midwinter International Exposition here in 1893.   The DeYoung itself celebrates 125 years in 2020 – having been established originally from the structure known as the “Memorial Museum” and greatly expanded in the years since. 

As noted, some of that history is now absent, possibly forever. The destruction of the statues of Francis Scott Key, whose lyrics form our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner”, was perhaps more noticeable since his monument still stands, but his figure is gone from its perch across from the DeYoung.  Through that now empty space the observation wheel sits motionless, awaiting the “go ahead” like so many other features of our city and nations, and the grounds seemed certainly more silent and deserted as well as more dim than usual during my pre tour stroll.  

When our group gathered outside the Japanese Tea Garden, we began our guided exploration, beginning with a walk along Stow Lake on our way to Strawberry Hill, which like most of the park had been created from the mostly barren sand dunes into lushly forested corners of nature.  We learned that the artificially created “Huntington Falls” were funded by a donation from Henry Huntington, the “Big Four” railroad czar whose home and library down in San Marino which I have loved visiting many times.  Note, all the “normal lighting” pictures here, gathered from the internet, are intended to give you a view that my own exploration failed to provide. 

At the top, the early visitors to the Park could take the carriage route, or the walking path, to what was called the “Observatory” – not in the sense we think today, but just a flat, open space where on a clear night they could view the stars.  I found this old postcard illustrating what you might have seen if you made the climb 120 years ago, before that 1906 earthquake destroyed the structure, never rebuilt, with little remaining.  Of course, even though it was dark at 1030 am, the smoke prevented any enjoyment of the stars themselves – but the owls hooting at us along the way might well have been confused as to why their normal cycle had been so rudely interrupted.  Thankfully, they did not attack in vengeance. But they might have been thinking about it ….. 

We continued past other notable features of the area, with groups of other hikers and children gradually appearing, but still in near dark skies – eventually arriving at a spot that even my husband who has lived in SF more than 40 years had not known of.  Referred to now as the “Prayerbook Cross”, it is nearly 60 feet tall and barely visible until you nearly reach the top of the trail where it stands on one of the highest points in the park itself.   A gift from the Church of England in 1894, resembling a traditional Celtic cross, it commemorates the first prayer service in 1579 following the arrival by Sir Francis Drake using the “Book of Common Prayer”.  Unlike the damaged or destroyed memorials below in the more well-travelled areas, I observed only a few curse words sprayed on rocks nearby this silent sentinel that looks over our changing city still. 

The moments and individuals commemorated in this city oasis cover a centuries long and world wide heritage. Today, our country faces divisions seemingly more deep and broad than those of any known in our lifetimes. They will not be resolved easily or quickly. I do not have the answers or solutions to offer, and I honestly question those who insist that their perspective is the only one worth considering, whatever position they take. I like to think we can build bridges between islands, but the daily turmoil erupting before us everywhere seems unending. I can only say that history has meaning – what meaning perhaps will always vary by the heritage of perspective of those sharing it or hearing it. It is up to us, individually, to work to preserve what we treasure, support the future we want to build for our children, and create traditions that they will cherish and which will give them strength and hope.

This stunning 1892 bird’s eye view of Golden Gate Park can be yours …

In a way I was glad I could experience the unique beauty of this amazing Park on such an unusual day – not to be repeated, hopefully, in our lifetimes.  Soon, a limited number of visitors will, bearing masks, move through the galleries of these museums, as more will picnic on the grounds, and hear music in the air – some of the guardians who stood over them are gone, but the life of the Park itself cannot be contained, only evolve.  Hopefully we shall, as well – and preserve all that which future generations shall remember, and perhaps treasure if not celebrate, under sunny, smoke free skies, again.  

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Dirty clothes, Dairies and Howl – oh my

My Cow Hollow Covid stroll through history

This past week brought my first opportunity in several months to discover new views of my recently adopted home town. The last six months have been crushing everyone in more ways than I can imagine – I am grateful to be with my husband, retired, and healthy. Nevertheless, the confinement has weighed on me, and I am sure on all you who read this, in different ways.  In an effort to direct some of my newly limited energy towards a constructive end, and other projects completed, I had recently committed to increasing my cardio activity, for both mental and physical health, by exploring the city. But where to begin? When I awoke in the wee hours last Saturday night, I recalled buying a book on Amazon prior to my move here in 2017, and I dug it out this past Sunday morning. 

The book was “Historic Walks in San Francisco – 18 trails through the City’s past” by Rand Richards. Perhaps you have avoided this bad habit, but I have many wonderful books that remain unread for years, and this is one.  It inspired me, and I set out to explore an area I was completely whose background was little known to me – the oddly named Cow Hollow.  Most of the historic background here, and all but a handful of the destinations, I credit fully to Mr. Richards whose book is unfortunately out of print. However, although his guide is based on geography, I want to share my stroll based on timeline – beginning with the earliest spot on my walk. Come along (masked, please) as we stroll through a kaleidoscope of history and humanity.  (As it turned out, our stroll occurs on a day of record breaking heat!)

Once, this was the center of an “essential service”!

The Spanish expedition led by Juan Bautista de Anza from Tubac (then Mexico, now Arizona) to the San Francisco Bay of Alta California arrived at the site of the Presidio in June 1776. You can read more about their journey in this excellent website. Soon, they found a water source which fed into the bay, and it became their spot for washing – known in time as “Washerwoman’s lagoon”.  By 100 years or so later, it was filled in, and disappeared – now, the intersection of Grenwich and Gough represents what would have been its center.  The shoppers and residents here for the most part may not realize their homes were once in the middle of water! 

Washerwoman’s Lagoon 1888 from the SF Library photo collection

It was not until 1847 that the first home was built in the area; long gone, it was built by Elijah Ward Pell, a member of a Mormon contingent who, according to the guidebook, was excommunicated for “licentious behavior” – shocking!  He chose to settle here, far from his former brethren who gravitated towards what was then called Yerba Buena. Today, the intersection of Green and Laguna bears no apparent marker of this first location of residence, but I am guessing he would have appreciated the liquor store’s presence in his time. 

The first home in the new neighborhood was in this intersection – long gone

The little community grew to support the growing broader population. What we now call Cow Hollow originally took its name from dairies which began in the area in 1853, growing to about 3 dozen of varying sizes until roughly 50 years later when the last closed.  This lovely little home on Octavia is regarded as the last remaining “dairy home” in the area – the name remains, but thankfully, not the aroma. 

The only remaining original “dairy home” in Cow Hollow

From 1861, the Octagon house at the corner of Gough and Union is one of two remaining in SF, but in its era nearly 700 were built around the country – promoted as energy efficient and healthy due to greater light exposure.  But originally, it was on the opposite corner – nearly a century after it was built, PG&E acquired the property and offered it for a mere dollar to whomever would move it. In the 1950’s the National Society of Colonial Dames purchased it and moved it to the current site, where it houses their display of period historical mementos, with a lovely park next door.  On the day of my stroll, the park welcomed dog walkers, readers, and other socially distant friends to it’s sanctuary.

When Henry Casebolt built his stately home on Pierce in 1866, a mere 15 years had passed after moving to the city from Virginia with his wife and 11 children!! He was a blacksmith who had started his own carriage making company and developed several mechanical innovations for horse drawn transportation and, in time, cable cars. Imagine how lonely this majestic home looked 150 years ago, before it was surrounded by the residences of today.  The guidebook says that 20 years after it was built, Chinese laborers could be seen across the street in their vegetable garden on the still empty street.  Now, a posting on the fence describes a public hearing (virtual, of course) to be held regarding the homeowner’s wish to remove the palm trees, and the neighbors desire to retain them – they are incongruous, but San Francisco is not known for moving quickly on homeowners’ wishes for change. 

This little alley, hidden behind a shall we say “budget motel” on Lombard, is Blackstone court – gated with a few homes which, like many, were moved here or repositioned over the years, but still date back over a century ago.  The gate bears a marker noting its significance going back two centuries along a trail past the lagoon to the military encampment at the Presidio – and, in time, the home of nurseryman Charles Abraham, who reportedly imported the first bougainvillea (native to South America) to California! Everyone loves bougainvillea! Imagine nearly the entire block surrounding this home with greenhouses, a windmill for power, and his own water tower – now, all gone and built over, save his original 1885 home. 

Unfortunately, this is the best look you can get of Blackstone Court from a motel carport.

There are endless stories of the 1906 earthquake and associated fires to the city as a whole.  I do not know if Cow Hollow was one of the most affected areas – but I found this wonderful account of a resident of the area, an “eyewitness to history”. 

San Francisco has been a haven and perhaps a magnet welcoming many, shall we say, less mainstream faiths and beliefs, at least in traditional western society of that era.  Can you imagine being a Hindu in 1905, and the excitement you would have at the first temple in the Western US, perhaps all the US, opening – a place for you, your family, your friends to gather safely and look for hope and encouragement in a rapidly changing world.  Although the district is home to other beautiful churches and houses of faith, the architecture of this residence on Webster and Fillmore remains as both housing and a meeting place for its members. Like many buildings along the walk, it bears signs noting that classes and gatherings have been suspended due to Covid – but the windows above are open, and one day the doors will be as well. 

SF is known worldwide for its role in the emergence of the “counterculture” – one might never guess that this little dining spot, for lobster rolls and burritos, once housed  “The Six Gallery”, and it was here in 1995 that the “beat movement” was birthed at a public reading of works, including Allen Ginsberg and his draft of “HOWL”.  The ideas, the passions and the energy that those minds and hearts generated reached across our continent in time – and the world.   Our city still gives haven to thinkers, creators and those whose lives challenge our ideas of traditional.  

The six plus decades since the Beat Generation, the 60’s “Summer of love” and events within our own memory brought more changes. Many of those impacted my life directly and continue to change lives worldwide. I walked about 4 miles last weekend on my little time travel; I saw families, couples, a few dogs, some skaters – new life continuing in this memorial to our shared heritage. There are many more beautiful homes along the way, not all necessarily historic or architecturally remarkable, but perfect examples of the varied eras that have come and gone through the nearly 250 years since DeAnza brought the Spanish expedition north to this then very different land. Here I passed a steep street with the carefully maintained homes standing like sentries in time, watching over the lives, the people, the vehicles that change decade by decade, remaining vigilant yet.

As I strolled along Broadway towards Franklin, the view down one of the famous steep avenues of the city towards the bay brings “Dirty Harry” to mind, and so many other films created here over the decades.  

Until a few years ago, I knew SF only from movies, and stories, and rare brief visits.  As I approach my car, I pass one of those sites that appear in tourist books, knowing that most of the stories I share with you today are less likely to be as well remembered as the fictional works of the silver screen. 

Yes, that’s Sally Field’s home in “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993) . I imagine they’re used to the gawkers!


As we reflect on our stroll, and I return to shelter in place once more, may I suggest this is not a time for wondering what we can regain from the recent past we have been denied for a brief moment, but rather what kind of future can we envision and work towards together.  Today, I gained new appreciation for the ongoing power of this city, and its peoples, to attract an unending variety of dreamers and schemers, hopes and visions, sharing our epiphanies and dejections.  That power exists everywhere, waiting to be embraced. Wherever you live, the history of your lives, and those who came before, can open hearts and minds to possibilities – we need them even more today.   

Just think about the amazing variety of lives, dreams and cultures who lived within these few blocks over nearly 250 years. Catholics, Latter day Saints, Hindu faiths; radicals, entrepreneurs, immigrants; scoundrels, visionaries and like most of us, people just trying to get through it most days. From the few hundred who came from Mexico, to those who travelled by ship and wagon across oceans and continents for a chance for a better life, the “outsiders” who were viewed with suspicion by the more established cultures, and the emerging visionaries crying for change and meaning – this city, and our country, gave them – and gives us – a chance to grasp our dreams.  

Although out of print, you find this used, and his other books, online!

So thank you, Mr. Richards, for enlightening me on this delightful stroll – here is a link to a summary of his many books. I hope you will consider further explorations of your own, even if only remotely, through his work.  I don’t know when my next “real life” excursion may occur (hopefully soon) – but here is a preview of one that I took just a few days later, by chance on a day unlike any other in recent memory, which will be in my next post.   Stay safe, y’all, and keep on dreaming!

Where in the world is the New NormL? Tune in next time to find out …

You’ve (still) got a friend in me

Like many of you, lately I have been missing my friends. I always loved the song “You got a friend in me” by Randy Newman, introduced a quarter century ago (!) in Pixar’s “Toy Story”. Even through all its sequels, somehow the spinners of animated tales still manage to imbue those little toys with heart and personality that capture our own feelings so well.  Joy, hope, loneliness, uncertainty, change – that band of playthings went through it all, and we grew along with them.   Woody and Buzz went through a lot – but not COVID.  That was reserved just for us humans.   

While we approach the six-month mark here in San Francisco of “shelter in place” – I have been missing so many of my friends.  Having moved here in late 2017, most of my longtime friends are now hundreds of miles away. Since arriving, between getting married, work and other adjustments, social life has been squeezed in when possible – until it wasn’t, in March. There are new friendships forming, of course, but being retired and now having no “active” social life – I feel everyone’s ongoing absence more deeply.   As much as zoom and Facetime and google meets and, well, even this blog are ways to stay connected – they cannot make up for human touch, for moments of laughter, for a quiet walk or a thousand other ways we find to be truly together. 

Friendship is kind of an ethereal, mystical force in some ways, coming and going, unpredictable, always evolving. There are all kinds of friendships, they say – some for a season, a few hopefully for a lifetime.  Growing up and for much of my “adult” life, I was never really good at feeling close to others, understandably from my personal history, but I have worked on it and continue to.  It was not that I did not care, but that I did not feel I fit in, or could be fully accepted, or truly belonged.  Yet, over the years, there have been friends that remained close, even now from afar.  Still … as months pass, even pre COVID, those connections are somehow fading … and perhaps that is healthy.  I have never moved away before – never left everything, and everyone, behind to make such a significant change in every area of my life. 

It’s normal that I don’t want to “let go” – I don’t want those long term relationships to end, whether they originated from shared interests like Disneyland and movies, from work relationships that turned into trust, caring and closeness, from church and other community commitments, or from my more recent coming to terms with parts of myself I had to learn to accept, coming out, and making new friends in that process.  Yet – the time comes, we must let go.  And then, continue to reach out again, and again.  I am learning to reach out here, not just to ask, but to give.  I treasure all those friends, old and new, far and close. 

There were, over the years, friends that drifted away, or relationships that ended on less than optimal terms. I realize in hindsight that I held an unrealistic expectation of some now lost friends – and vice versa. Sadly, some ended as I grew into being more of me, and less of what I thought I was supposed to be for others – becoming authentic; coming out was a part of that, but not all of that.  Some wanted care, support, answers from me that I could not give – and likewise I wanted more than others could offer. A few  wanted me to be who I used to be for them; some could not accept my life any longer, I had fallen from grace in their eyes, or lost my way.  It wasn’t always direct – but the undercurrent was clear enough.  And that’s just part of life – we move on.  I hope, for all of them, they are finding their way to happiness still. 

Funny, though, how some of the closest and most long enduring relationships come from my professional life – coworkers that in time became more.  For many of us, we spend more time with our office team than with our family. We recently re-watched “The Office” finale which perfectly portrayed the awkward balance between  tolerating and caring about those people and, then in time, moving from that “home” to a new, beckoning future.  There was a song featured towards the end of the finale, actually written by Creed Bratton, actor and musician – called “All the Faces”.   Here is a bit of the lyrics, and a link to a fan video with Office moments. 

“I saw a friend today, it had been a while. And we forgot each others names.

But it didn’t matter cause deep inside the feeling still remained the same.

We talked of knowing one before you’ve met, and how you feel more than see,

and other worlds that lie in spaces in between, and angels you can see.

And all the faces that I know have that same familiar glow.

I think I must’ve known them somewhere once before

All the faces that I know.

Creed Bratton, “The Office” finale – All the Faces that I know

2020 has been a year of challenge we could never have expected. In the past nearly half year, I have seen friends lose jobs, lose family – yes, even lose their lives, leaving loved ones behind grieving.  Sell their homes, move away to new ones, or risk losing all they had to fire. Some started new lives;  their children graduate without an audience, their spouses have been hospitalized and hopefully recover; others are thinking about leaving the country of their birth in frustration;  one has welcomed a new grandchild to their family.  But I see people turning on one another daily – on the news, in my own circle of relationships, and online.  Sometimes over politics, or faith, or some position on an issue that they feel strongly about – whatever the reason, some doors are closed, perhaps forever. All this and more happened in the lives of my friends since we entered this strange era.  These events would mostly have happened apart from Covid, but somehow, we all seem to be carrying an extra weight, a longer shadow. These are the times they – all of us – need one another more than ever. We must not burrow into our caves, but reach out, even more – it takes work. 

True, some friendships endure a lifetime – but most fade.  We don’t want to let go, sometimes – we need one another; but it happens.  Like the tender strands of a web that stretch in the wind, and in time – are loosed, and eventually unwind except in our memory.  That friendship connection is a force of mystery, it’s lifespan unknown, its purpose uncertain – do we nurture it?  Do we make it a priority?  As we see gaps between ourselves, I can only offer you this suggestion – don’t throw away what you have.  Try to build on it; try to keep it alive.  Yes, there are times that moving on is best – knowing those moments is kind of hard right now, when no one is really themselves, and everyone is in a personal pressure chamber with the steam building every day.  We need each other, friends, now and past, future and yet to be. 

Nearly a year ago now, I took a trip to see old friends down south – not knowing of course that it would be the last trip away from my new home for a yet to be determined time. I’m grateful I had the chance. A kind of reunion tour, not being able to see everyone in that short time, but having moments with many, seeing faces light up, remembering what we shared and setting aside what might have been.  Here are some moments, and faces, from that trip that I treasure – we may not meet again. 

There is a kind of longing, a yearning in my heart and perhaps yours hearts that seems to remain; we may learn in time that others cannot be, never could be, everything we needed or wanted.  We start to see not a glass half full, or half empty – instead, seeing no glass at all, just an appreciation for what is there, now, today. Letting go of the longing for “more”, to treasure what is in our lives at this moment – choosing to say “yes – this is enough”.   And to work on being a channel to others of what we seek ourselves.  We become part of a living network of souls, rising, falling, reaching out and for a moment dancing together, parting and moving on. 

Which brings me back to our friends, Woody, Buzz and all those little toys, and most recently Toy Story 4.  Spoiler alert, folks!  I saw this in the theater last year – in a way, it felt almost like an existentialist reflection on what does it mean to be alive, but maybe that was just me.  In any case – at the end of the film, Woody has to make a choice.  He chooses a new path, but in that – realizes he also must choose to, for now, say goodbye to those who became his family for so long.  In a way, I think COVID, and distance, is forcing that for some friendships.  Here is the end of that film, which, if you haven’t seen it – might give you some joy for a couple of hours. 

My friends – present, and past – I miss you dearly. You have taught me so much; your gentle kindnesses, small perhaps to you, encouraged me to accept myself the way you did.  Your open minds and hearts showed me that people who are different can still truly care for one another without expecting change.  Your courage in the face of trials and challenges inspired me to find strength to stand for what I work for.  Your openness to different ways of thinking helped me to escape my own narrow vision and tinier world for a greater reality.  Perhaps most of all, the fact that you showed me love does not have to be perfect to have worth, helped me to work towards finding my own voice – and now, in the days ahead, to try to share these lessons with others.  God knows there are many surrounding each of us that just need a little love.  

We are trying our best to stay afloat in the winds of change, and we may not be together again, certainly not in the foreseeable future.  So let me say this clearly, from my heart. I hope you are well, and loved, and finding hope.  And, I miss all my friendships that, for whatever reason – deliberate, their choice, my choice, or just “happened” – aren’t there anymore. I wish I could say to them, and I say to you who read this  – thank you.  

Thank you,friends, for being a special part of a chapter in my life, and even though it is closed, you are still there, always in my heart, not forgotten.