reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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she-birds. [merely-a-thought monday]

“old birds have stronger wings.” (aarp magazine)

“but grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.” (anne lamott)

resilience. strength. sisu.

we have flown through many storms, we have weathered many droughts and much deluge. we have built nests from scratch and we have re-built them again. we have given birth through birth canals and through love choices. we have sought security and food for our young when security and food were scarce. we have attached wings to ideas and rube-goldberg solutions; we have made do. we have made piss-poor decisions and grandiose ones that have changed everything. we have broken treasures and fixed stuff; we have learned reverse threading. we have been emotional and we have necessarily let go. we have withstood fires of damaging words and we have recuperated from physical blows to our body, our sexuality, our hearts. we have tried to understand, we have been seekers of closure in times of strife. yet, even without understanding or closure, we have kept on keeping on. we are soon old birds and we have stronger wings.

because life, as life, presents gain and loss, winning and losing, achievement and failure, rich and poor, rising and falling, young and old, crepey and supple elasticity, as juxtapositions, as two sides of a pendulum ever-swinging, we have been measured in these competing narratives.

but we are aging birds with wings who have felt the sun of more than twenty-thousand mornings, the moon’s gravitational pull of decades, the grace of time and gardens through fallow and fruit. we are aging birds who have both soared and plummeted. we are aging birds who do not need the measure of others for our definition, for defining ourselves, continuing to learn, takes enough time and is complex enough.

we imagine unicorns in clouds, names in the stars of the galaxy. we catch the scent of sunshine on a wafting breeze and listen to the calls of mourning doves, wondering. we have come a long way. the path we have taken has not been straight. we have been courageous and we have been tenacious. we have flapped our way to here. we proudly wing our way forward, ever-forward. we are ever-stronger.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY


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a little bitta chalk. [merely-a-thought monday]

sidewalk chalk is pretty cheap. we have several little buckets of it, all different colors, chunky and at the ready.

one day last week some good parent brought out the sidewalk chalk and some delightful children wrote on the sidewalks on 7th avenue. walking our ‘hood, we were two of the recipients of their light-blue messaging.

“i just wanted to say you look awesome,” the sidewalk said to us. it was a hot day and i had on old multi-colored patchwork shorts and a sleeveless top seemingly older than the hills, thinning flipflops from old navy, humidity-messy-curly hair and a hot-flash-aided-shall-we-say-glistening-face. i felt anything but awesome. but this message made me smile. it reminded me of heidi’s sweet momma who said, “you will never be any more beautiful than you are right now.” wise words.

positive messages are free. it doesn’t cost any one any thing to say something positive. it doesn’t detract from any serious issue at hand; it doesn’t lessen the issuer’s importance. instead, it sets up concentric ripples of goodness, of kindness, of value to each person it touches.

“there are a hundred ways they could have said that,” david would say. indeed, a hundred ways to go about doing each moment in life. probably way more than a hundred. and yet, so often, people passing, people in relationship, people in power choose a way that is toxic, that demeans others, oppresses others, suffocates others, debilitates others. so often they choose aggression, argumentative, antagonistic words or actions.

someone in power once said to me, “i’m sick and tired of you.” it was the moment he jerked the heart-string i had to the organization, the moment i realized that all his negativity was intentional; it was toxic, demeaning, oppressive, suffocating and debilitating, not to mention shocking. i wonder what other 99 things he could have said, the other 99 ways he could have acted. i wonder what message he would have chalked on the sidewalk.

appreciation of each other, our beloveds, our friends, our colleagues, our community, this world, is contagious. its goodness is seed for growth, for collaboration, for mutually existing on this good earth in actual harmony.

simple words, spoken gently, simple acts of valuing, can make the difference in a person’s day. whether or not we intimately know that person seems irrelevant. to believe that we have made someone smile, have made someone breathe easier, have made someone’s day better, have inspired someone to pass it on, is irrefutably virtuous. to be optimistic, recognize others in their success, to stand in even-keeled integrity, to bring tender and honest concern, are traits of wisdom. to believe that we have softened a circumstance, diffused a conflict, dispersed anger is actual power.

and goodness begets goodness, in the long run.

for power does not come from negativity and control. instead, it comes from positivity and generosity, from empowering others rather than pushing them down. it comes from not thinking one is righteous, but instead recognizing one’s fallibility, one’s flaws. it comes with recognizing we all have much to learn. it comes when simplicity and kindness come together, in both random and intentional acts.

ask the little kids with the light-blue sidewalk chalk. they seem to really know that.

*****

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“difficult” women. [merely-a-thought monday]

“it actually doesn’t take much to be considered a difficult woman. that’s why there are so many of us.” (jane goodall)

and because of just exactly this, i will tread lightly as i write.

for the rules are still different in this world – the rules for men, the rules for women. the word “difficult” – and arriving at the word “difficult” – should present its own debate. how does one get this label, one would ask. does difficult mean speaking up, speaking out? does difficult mean raising the bar on expectations? does difficult equate with uncompromising? is agile adaptability difficult? does talent or education or expertise or experience make one difficult? is difficult attached to success? does difficult mean not accepting discriminatory treatment? is difficult shunning a lack of respect or other indignities? does difficult mean pointing out the lack of transparency in an organization, an institution, a company? does difficult mean urging truth? does difficult mean following process? does difficult mean requesting financial equity between genders, between races? does difficult mean asking to be rewarded on one’s merits? does difficult mean asking hard questions? does difficult mean – heavens forbid – talking back? does difficult mean suggesting change? does difficult describe “good trouble“?

do those things applied to a woman make her difficult? do those things applied to a man make him difficult? is the measuring stick different? might there be a double standard? just where is the dividing line and why is there one?

if indeed those define “difficult”, i’d further suggest that a difficult man is considered a powerhouse, a strong leader, a go-getter whereas a difficult woman is considered, well, difficult, out-of-line, disrespectful, even egregious.

jane goodall is right. it doesn’t take much to be considered a difficult woman. not back in the day. not now.

and for that, i would hope that all women would get mighty difficult.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY


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momma’s 100th birthday. [merely-a-thought monday]

i hope there is chocolate ganache cake and asti spumante. today is my sweet momma’s 100th birthday and, wherever she is roaming in that other plane of existence, i want there to be an enormous celebration of this day she was born back in 1921. there is not a moment i don’t miss her. there is not a moment that i am unaware of her presence.

the dining room table is piled with all kinds of finnish glassware and etched crystal and scandinavian birchwood as i empty bins that have been packed for years. i carefully unwrap the end-of-roll-clean-newsprint that layers between these and i’m immediately reminiscent. every here and there there is a tiny note, written by my mom, to explain the origins of this vase or that kissing-couple-wine-stopper. i have many questions and know that they will now go unanswered. i find myself researching and researching, a google-fest of information about these items, some of which have no story i can access.

i am drawn to pieces and carefully clean them. we poured chilled white wine into a pair of chunky goblets, ittala ultima thule glass designed by tapio wirkkala, inspired by melting ice in lapland. yesterday i made strawberry rose sangria and poured it into glasses from a heavy crystal etched pitcher, which i remember was a gift to my parents early in their marriage. the other day we had happy hour snacks out on the deck, olives and crackers and goat cheese on hand-painted japanese china, a post-world-war-two-origin lost to me, served on a glass mid-century hazel atlas boopie berwick party platter (which is actually called a ‘smoke and snack tray’ but i can’t bring myself to call it that.)

the history gathers in our dining room and i can almost feel the cheers of my momma and my dad, my grandmother mama dear and grandfather gramps. they encourage my googling and they also encourage me to sort through and find the things that really resonate with me. i can hear my momma telling me, “pass it on to someone” or “sell it!” as i unpack more bins of things, things, things that would otherwise remain packed. although i still abide by the unspoken ‘beaky rule’ to saaave new things for a bit before using them, keeping all these things packed in bins for years, no, decades – unused – is silliness and it is rewarding time spent opening it all up, seeing what’s there, going through, incorporating these jewels into our daily life. i know that is making my momma smile.

today we will lift our glasses to my momma, our beaky, and celebrate her. her spirit and spunk live on. her stink eye penetrating look, her raised eyebrow “oh?”, her ‘write-a-lettuh’, her sisu, her new-yorkishness. her kindness, her storytelling, her love.

today i will light a candle and gently ring the delicate glass bell she and my dad received as a wedding gift and i will be grateful that this day – 100 years ago – my momma was born on this earth. for that, this world is better.

*****

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the ice cream truck. [merely-a-thought monday]

“stop!!!!” we’d yell at the top of our lungs.

it didn’t happen often, but every now and then, we got to stop the ice cream man as he jingled his way around the neighborhood. then began The Choice. toasted almond bars or chocolate eclairs or or creamsicles or nutty buddy cones or italian ices (although we most often got those on the way out of modells sporting goods store, which, for some reason, had a stand by the doors). my momma would buy fudgsicles and ice cream sandwiches for in the freezer, so those weren’t viable options. and we would never-ever just buy a cup of ice cream with those wooden spoon things you got in elementary school or with your modells italian ice. that would be lame. it seemed important to get something more novel than what was inside your own house. particularly if it was ice cream on a stick. we knew, at the time, that it was a splurge and we loved every single second of it. we’d sit on the curb or on the grass or on the stoop and relish whatever treat we picked. summer in east northport. summer on long island.

you can hear it coming – “pop goes the weasel” playing incessantly around the ‘hood. it used to drive both my girl and my boy crazy as it approached and passed by – the pitch of the ‘song’ changing keys as it approached, drove by eventually and was in the distance. we laugh now as it passes us these days, for the same reason and because it would likely take a small mortgage to feed ice cream treats to a family from the ice cream man these days. we have marveled at watching families with small children gather together in the park eating dairy queen. a medium blizzard is $4 so a family of five would be $20 just for an afternoon carry-out treat. i don’t know but, to us, that seems like a lot.

harry burt, the founder of good humor, apparently stumbled into ice cream kingdom rule when he froze chocolate topping to use with ice cream. it turned out to be a messy affair so his son suggested using the sticks from his previous invention (jolly boy suckers) and – voila! – the ice cream bar was a hit. his decision to start the ice cream truck/wagon/push-cart was on the heels of his treat-success and, believing that good “humor” had everything to do with the humor of the palate, he had his company name picked out. good humor is synonymous with yummy ice cream and childhood. what a legacy!

a few days ago, 20 went to his freezer after we finished a scrumptious dinner with him. he gestured to 14 to be quiet and reached his hand in, pulling out a container but shielding it from my view. it turned out to be a half gallon of coffee ice cream, which is my favorite tied with mint chocolate chip. it was not cashew or almond; this was straight-up ice cream, which he guiltily knew i couldn’t have. he and 14 enjoyed bowls of this dessert. i had two tiny bites, which were amazing. coffee ice cream always makes me think of my big brother who, night after night, would load his bowl up and eat to his heart’s content. after my minuscule taste-test, i googled cashew/almond coffee ice cream and have a photo of a couple options saved on my phone so that i might seek them out.

someday when i pass a freezer with talenti dairy-free-sorbetto cold-brew-coffee displayed, i will literally yell, “stop!”

it won’t be the ice cream truck ringing bells or playing “it’s a small world” or “pop goes the weasel”. it won’t be standing at the side of the road in the hot sun with a dollar held tightly in my hand in line behind other sweaty, excited kids. it won’t be staring at the poster on the side of the truck with too many choices, the scent of coppertone wafting through the air. but, like all the children gathered around the proverbial ice cream truck in full glorious summer, i will be filled with good humor.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

and a little reminder from our CHICKEN MARSALA:


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creeping pigweed. [merely-a-thought monday]

i know little to nothing about farming. driving through eastern colorado, missouri, all of kansas, iowa and across the state of wisconsin, there are patchworks of farmfields that stretch on seemingly forever. gorgeous and rich in the colors of good dirt and rising plants, we admired the quilted beauty of our roadtrip and talked about farming as we passed the lives of people we would never meet.

the billboard read, “don’t let pigweed creep back!” it was an imperative to research. pigweed is, apparently, insidious and something that hardworking people who have chosen crop-growing, stock, and all means of agriculture, have to deal with. pigweed can be toxic to livestock and will aggressively take over grain and soybean fields. it is resistant to mitigation and hard to control. it can be destructive. once eradicated, one must remain vigilant about its presence so as to avoid further damage to crops and animals.

i am struck by how this invasive plant mimics what has happened in the political arena of our living.

we had just, a mere couple hours before, stopped at a gas station to fill up big red and run into the restroom. wearing masks, we entered the convenience store where all conversation stopped as the door swung closed behind us. no one inside had on a mask and the stares at us were pointed and aggressive. it was unnerving. had we entered a miraculous-global-pandemic-free zone? or had we entered inside a building where pigweed had never left, where the insidious, toxic dis-ease of misinformation and selfishness was spreading its roots, reaching out underground and above to damage all within its cloying and suffocating grasp? is there no hope for this place with entrenched pigweed?

it would seem to me, as we read the current news of steps forward, of good intentions, of attempts to advance efforts toward equity and equality, social justice, healthcare, hunger and homelessness, of work to aid in getting past this horrid pandemic and all its fallout, that we should do all we can to not let pigweed creep back.

*****

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humanity revealed. [merely-thought monday]

in a twist of irony, the measured-computerized female voice on our voicemail the other day admonished us, “sorry. you did not reveal yourself to be human. goodbye.” 

what??! 

the audacity!

we are sitting in the emptied living room of my in-laws as we write.  long grooves in the carpet reveal where the couch was and a few browned leaves lay in a trail of the shedding ivy that was moved yesterday.  pictures are off the wall and the mirrors have been taken down.  we sit at the counter on folding chairs from the shed out back. 

all along the top of the mantel are shot glasses, part of columbus’ collection, the rest of which are on shelving downstairs or on top of the player piano in the family room.  they read things like “green bay” or “maker’s mark” or “south dakota” or “heidelberg” or “cedar rapids, iowa” or “yosemite national park” or “krakow” or “utah shakespeare festival” or “ithaca college” or “chicago” or “estes park” or “florida” or “skagway”.  over a hundred, there are too many to list.  but they are a glimpse into a life – a human life – a timeline shared by others. 

columbus went to some of these places, not all.  but his beloved family and dear friends would bring him tiny glassware from wherever they roamed.  their story became his story in the way that sharing stories works. 

it would be a 100-act play to sit and listen to the narrative behind each of these memory shots; it would reveal times of travel and joy and yearning and the seeking of adventure.  it would traverse across miles of decades; it would travel around the globe.  it would be punctuated with laughter and sighs and maybe a few tears. 

the thing i know – it would be rich with human-ness, rich with revelation, rich with love.

*****

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the wisdom of the white trout lily. [merely-a-thought monday]

when my big brother died, i was lost in a maelstrom of emotion. it was hard for me to wrap my head around how the world would go on at a point he could no longer feel it. it wasn’t like i hadn’t experienced loss before. at that point in my life, i no longer had any of my grandparents present on this earth with me. that just felt like a more natural thing – to lose those we love who are elderly, who have lived long and full lives. my beloved brother, on the other hand, was merely 41 and there were so many hopes and dreams he still had for himself and his family. i am still struck by the fact that the world does, indeed, go on. the sun rises and sets; the moon lingers in the night sky. and my question, both existential and somewhat obvious, remains unanswered: how it can go on if he can’t feel it anymore. how it will go on – someday – if i can’t feel it anymore.

at some point a few years ago, i played for a memorial service at a synagogue. one of the meditations before kaddish made me weep. penned by merrit malloy, it reads: “when i die give what’s left of me away to children and old men that wait to die. and if you need to cry, cry for your brother walking the street beside you. and when you need me, put your arms around anyone and give them what you need to give me. i want to leave you something, something better than words or sounds. look for me in the people i’ve known or loved, and if you cannot give me away, at least let me live in your eyes and not in your mind. you can love me best by letting hands touch hands and by letting go of children that need to be free. love doesn’t die, people do. so when all that’s left of me is love, give me away.”

the white trout lily humbly bows on the forest floor. much like people, though on a different scale, their presence is ephemeral, fleeting. on sunny days, their petals will curl back, up, towards the sun; on shady days these small flowers may not even open. their simple beauty a mystery to the passerby, their faces shyly downward, they fill the underbrush on the side of the trail, dotting the landscape with fragile white blooms. i trust they are not concerned with the impact they make on the world nor do they wonder about their footprints once they are gone. they are simply there – love – dressed in white floral.

as we have moved through the pandemic and the devastating myriad of even just this past year, it is inevitable to think of all the loss, the loved ones who have died, the families and concentric circles left behind in grief, questioning. it is also – yes – a reminder that we are still here.

my dear friend sent me a link to a new york times op ed by charles blow. she drew my attention to the last line, words of perfection: “when i am gone, and people remember my name, i want some of them to smile.”

yes.

that.

smile. and give me away.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY



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still here. [merely-a-thought monday]

we woke up in the middle of the night as the alert went off on the phone. “criminal activity” was named but no further details. “criminal activity.”

we woke up in the early morning and sat with coffee and our phone and read that just up the road, merely four miles away, the next mass shooting had taken place. three people were dead, at least two others wounded. the gunman had not yet been apprehended. though there was an active shooter still freely moving about, who clearly had no issue with killing or maiming people, we were advised that there was not a threat to the community as this seemed a targeted shooting. “targeted shooting.” “not a threat to the community.”

there have been 148 mass shootings this year so far, over 45 in the last month. one month. though i was somehow in a semantics match recently over the terminology “weapon of mass destruction”, i would hold to saying that no matter the gun used in any of these events, 45 mass shootings (described as 4 or more victims shot, not including the shooter) constitutes mass destruction in my world. is value placed in the use of words or in actual lives? it was heated. the semantics seem like irrelevant hair-splitting. 148 mass shootings with at least four shot constitutes nearly 600 victims. if the circle of those victims’ lives only reaches out to ten others, that’s 6000 lives affected. if the circle abides by psychologist/anthropologist dunbar’s number (the approximate number of people about whom you are able to “keep track of all the relevant social information”) and is an intimate 150, then that is 22,200 lives affected. others claim the social network circle encompasses 290 – which would be 42,920. and then, there is the acquaintance circle, which holds 500, which would be 74,000. affected lives. since january 1. it’s bracing. it is destroying us. more importantly than any picayune semantics is the question of how to stop this kind of brutal destruction of lives.

and so, sunday morning – again – three mommas, three dads, three sets of family members, loved ones, friends were informed that the person they loved was dead. in a moment. and there is no going back. because in one moment people went from breathing, from living in whatever circumstances they were in, from whatever challenges they faced and whatever adversity had befallen them or whatever joy had emerged for them, to not. this time, in our town. we have joined boulder, atlanta, indianapolis, stockton, chicago, too many towns to list. we are number 47. in the last month.

targeted shooting. not a threat to the community. mass destruction. weapons. lives and lives and lives.

in these times, masked paths crossing at the grocery store count as a visit. especially when you pull your cart over to the side and step out of the line of traffic. we were at one of the local markets a few days ago, efficiently going about our list, when i heard my name – with a question mark at the end. because, as you know, it is a tad bit harder to recognize people when they are wearing masks. maybe fifteen minutes later or so, we felt like we had had a social outing, a surprise visit. we felt fortunate to have been there at that very time.

we talked about the pandemic, recent challenges, difficult times, isolation, family, a little sense-making by the end cap of maybe-it-was-the-coffee-aisle. we posed hard questions and sorted to the support of each other. the statement i remember clearly in this warm-conversation-that-felt-like-a-tiny-visit was sue’s. “to remind us we’re still here,” she wisely commented. “we’re still here.”

in today’s world, even more than before, being “still here” is nothing to take for granted. in today’s world, you don’t know what might happen at the grocery store, the mall, the religious house you attend, the festival, the concert, the bar, the school, the house party, the club, on the street, the spa, the convenience store, the gas station, the park, your workplace. being “still here” is not a given.

i took this photograph of tiny white flowers blooming out of the fallen leaves in the woods off the side of the trail on a partly cloudy day. purity, new growth out of the decay on the forest floor, the phoenix.

it seems that we are tiny flowers, fragile, each and every day rising, each and every day trying, each and every day breathing, reaching for the sun and soaking in the warmth of another day.

we are still here. and we are reminded to make it count.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY


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“the pace of nature.” [merely-a-thought monday]

“…adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience.” (ralph waldo emerson)

no matter how hard we try, there is not one thing we can do to make the sun appear or the day warmer or the moon to rise or the snow to fall. we accept that time will come, time will pass, time will form and time will destroy. we give over to nature, anticipating that which we know, expecting the unexpected. we baby-step through this very time in the universe, our footprints barely visible on the timeline that is forever. we learn that no matter our stride, we are simply tiny beings. eventually, we learn, after giving over to patience, that that is enough.

the john denver sanctuary in aspen is a treasure trove. we have been there three times now. a garden of trails and large river boulders etched with lyrics and quotes, perennial daisies and aspen trees, it is a gentle sinking into peaceful. the city sounds of aspen fall away and the river and streams are lulling.

we wandered for hours, reading, sitting, pondering, the sun on our faces, the sound of quaking leaves slowing us down. i stood on a giant rock, like a stage under my feet, and bowed deeply to no one and to the brilliance of a man who knew how to tenderly shape melody and weave lyric into a fabric like a soft blanket.

we were immersed in poetry, in words, delicious to read aloud. we were quietly taking it all in, i in all my john-denver-glory, reliving the cassettes i wore out, rewinding, rewinding, listening again and again. this exquisite place, tempting all-day-hooky-playing, wielding a magic defined by thought, encouraging reflection, softly begging you to tumble in your own thoughts. this place slowing you down, reminding you that it is not stuff that defines you, it is not the stuff-of-you that will remain with others.

we wrestle with timing, with suspense, with expectation and disappointment. we measure against ladders of success and hold ourselves to higher higher higher standards of accomplishment.

nature quietly treks on, luminescent and glorious, patiently acknowledging every babystep moment of its impact, surrendering judgement and secretly, from the heart of the universe, signing its autograph on all of us, whispering to us to slow our pace.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY