every summer we would go strawberry-picking. my mom kept the berry baskets from year to year, hanging in our one-car garage. we’d go “out east” on long island, get all sunburned and strawberry-stained. my dad would quip, “one for the basket, one for the breadbasket,” chomping in-between picking.
when my children were littler, we would do the same. thompson strawberry farm in the county was our destination. the kiddos were also big fans of “the breadbasket” and i have pictures to prove it. sweetest moments, in all good ways.
if you were to describe a strawberry, you would try to describe its long-conic shape, the petals at the top where the stem connects. then you would likely go on to describe the color as it matures, the way it crunches, the way it tastes, the way seeds might get stuck in your teeth and, maybe, the way juice would stain your hands and, probably, your clothing. there’s nothing quite like a strawberry fresh-off-the-vine on a hot summery-sun day in the middle of a field with your tummy kind of pokin’ at you. amaaaaazing. my dad would agree.
as we walked on the trail, we encountered this strawberry-shaped pod. it’s a wild teasel. upside-down. but teasel is the perfect name for this flowering plant. for unless you spoke to the prickly nature of this, you could be describing the shape, the sessile leaves, the stem of a strawberry. any touch or, worse yet, a bite, would indeed tell you the difference. naturally, the color – or lack thereof – would also never tease you into picking it for your berry basket.
i guess you really need to examine closely what you believe to be a strawberry or what you think might be a strawberry. you need to question the properties of a real strawberry. you may need to research.
just because it sort of looks like a strawberry does not make it a strawberry. and, for your well-being, you need to be able to tell the difference.
i wish – every day – that my sweet momma and poppo were still here. that we could coffeesit with them, make them great soups for lunch, spoil them for dinner. that we could take them apple-picking and introduce my dad to a new scotch or two he hadn’t tried yet. that we could maybe adventure a little or just be quiet and listen to their old stories. i wish.
the thing i know, though, is that they would be beside themselves in this circus of a country we now have. it would make both of them irate to watch the vitriol being tossed about, the divisiveness that is being fed by rabid spewers, the lack of transparency, the lies. my daddy-o would have a few choice words to describe these folks and they wouldn’t be pretty.
and my mom? well, she would have no time for anyone who is less than kind to another. she would want nothing to do with any politician or religious leader or pundit who skips kindness in their approach to life, who excuses their own behavior, stance, agenda, platform, control tactic, extremism based on warped interpretation of law or scripture. she would point out the colossal hypocrisy. she might reiterate the story about when, in the dark night, they parked their little vw bug next to a small hill off the road. tired while traveling europe by car, they needed to rest and could find no guesthouse nearby. the little hill would serve them well, they thought. they woke up next to a gigantic dung pile, covered with black tarp held down by old tires. she would trust that we could connect the metaphoric dots. sometimes a hill is not a hill.
i think that both of them – were they here – would be ashamed of what it’s all become. my dad would wonder how his service – missing-in-action in world war II and then as a POW in a bulgarian camp – mattered now to these people who are making a mockery of democracy. my mom would be aghast at how people are being treated, marginalized, discriminated against, excluded. she, who worked hard to be kind to everyone, would worry about the popularity of this ugly trend. yes, they would both – were they here – be astonished at how, in so many arenas and in so many circumstances, people are just downright not good to each other.
i guess that – were they here – they would love a sit-down with dolly parton. they’d probably all talk at once, new yawk and a southern drawl all intermingling in conversation. and they’d all agree that they didn’t understand why anyone at all would “let religion and politics and things like that stand in the way of just being good human beings.”
and then – were they here, the three of them together – they would remind us all to stay away from dung piles posing as hills.
the midterms are rapidly approaching. the rhetoric is amping up. the tv ads, the phone calls, the billboards, the texts, the email messages, the political mail in the mailbox – all dedicated to sway our vote.
i realize that this is the way to raise money, that this is the way to get one party ahead of the other. many voters will elect to vote a straight party ballot. some will vote without asking any questions. some will vote without any information at all. some will vote for vapid minds, choosing the rough edges of spewed anger, covert scheming. they are voting on a bandwagon – with truth obscured – and haven’t looked past the exterior of the candidates.
i was chatting quite some time ago with a college professor. he was teaching a class three days a week and was talking about his experiences. “anybody can be brilliant for an hour and a half,” he quipped. i laughed, thinking how true that is.
but it’s the long haul that counts. it’s what’s at the crux that counts. i wonder what is in the center of what motivates the candidates we are considering. what is past the exterior, what are the things they affirm, believe in, wish to move forward?
anyone can look pious, even righteous, in brevity, for short spurts of time. but these same pedestalized people can bring to the table masked and unmasked agenda that is riddled with inequality, marginalization, discrimination, divisiveness, violence, a thwarting of social, racial, gender, financial equity all under the auspices of brilliance. it is our responsibility to peel back the layers, to poke through the season-of-midterm blahblah, to examine the intentions, the integrity, of the people we choose – truly, in every arena – to represent us.
how these people manifest in their communication, their compassion, their fairness, their steadfast evenhandedness, their actual brilliance – not the hourandahalf variety – should tell us something important. if a person does not represent the values we uphold ourselves, the ones we would lay out to each and every one of those we love, why would we elect that person to represent us, to reflect us? if our vote was revealed to our loved ones, our children, our family, friends, community, colleagues, would we take comfort, would we have pride, in what was revealed?
for it is in our vote that we truly show what is beyond the exterior. it is in our vote that we truly show what is in our heart.
“duh” went through my mind when we hiked past this sign on a high mountain trail in aspen. every time we hike – absolutely anywhere – we are nice and we say hi. that seems pretty basic. “what’s with the sign reminder?” i wondered.
most trails in high elevation are shared. hikers trek, mountain bikers bike and equestrians ride – all on the same trails. kindness, mostly, prevails. friendliness, mostly, is at the ready. in this covid-19 time, with some exception, masks are pulled up as people pass each other face-to-face; safety is, mostly, first.
but there is always that element. any where. those who do not share well. those who do not trail together. those who are not nice. those who do not say hi. those who don’t even wave. those who need reminding. those who need signs.
today is – finally, at long last, after an interminable political season – election day.
given the run-up to this day of threats of national security, of people in trucks chasing down buses from the other side, of the president threatening to sic the supreme court upon the election, of mistruths of voter fraud, of concerns about gun-toting and armed observers at the polls, of covid-19 superspreader rallies held by the leader of the free world in a country raging with pandemic, of any number of examples of malfeasance by leadership et al, it would seem that signs might actually be necessary. basic signs. signs to remind people how to be. signs posted in most kindergarten classrooms across the land, from sea to shining sea.
signs that say, “be nice, say hi!”
signs, well, freaking everywhere.
because people are exercising their right to vote. people are having a say in this country that we all share, so that people can trek and bike and ride, metaphorically speaking, all somehow together on the same highways, the same backroads, the same trails, in the same states, in the same communities, the same cities, the same schools and businesses and religious institutions, the same neighborhoods, the same workplaces, the same clubs, the same friend-groups, the same families, across this vast country. people are voting so that their voices are considered, so that they are included, so that they can share in this democracy.
on the never-ending, incessant, ceaseless, uninterrupted, tedious, wearisome campaign trail, maybe the signs would help.
the wreckage of this nation is smoldering. ill-intention was unleashed on this country four years ago and it is time to douse the fires of hatred and division and suppression and aggrandized self-serving agenda. it is time to steer away from the fire. it’s time to vote.
the populace of this nation is trembling. adrenaline has pumped, non-stop, for the last four years and it is time to take a breath. it is time to reach with compassion and care across the obvious aisle of race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, religion. it is time to come down off ladders of audacity, rungs that few ever touch; time to make the united states of america united as-best-we-can, time to stop the divisiveness, now pervasive everywhere. it is time to recognize that there is much work to be done, if we can even attempt to slightly level the playing field for each citizen in a nation that proclaims to be in the always-flux of forming a more perfect union. it’s time for healing. it’s time to vote.
individual voices in this nation are fading. this administration has ceased to listen. it has ceased to give concern to fact, to science, to medical expertise, to any one or any thing that gets in its narcissistic way. it is grounding down to stumps the stalwart voices of reason, the wise words of those with prowess, masters in their fields. and then, this administration grinds the stump into ashen piles of wood-soot, calling names, firing shots from the hip at masters in their careers, and claiming an autonomy on knowledge. it’s time to vote.
the democracy of this nation is at risk. the administration of the last four years has undermined it, assailed it, pummeled it, ripped it from its roots with nary a backward remorseful glance. truth has been shredded. diplomacy shattered. fear-mongering has come out of its dark cavern of danger. virtue is missing in action. it’s time to vote.
i never won when the county fair contest involved guessing the number of gumballs in the jar. it’s just hard to wrap your head around just how many gumballs fit in a jar – so many more than you think possible.
at the beginning it was twisted entertainment to watch the CNN gumball jar fill up. the cnn anchor would add another gumball to the jar each time the president lied. and then, when it was full, he would add another jar. and another. and another. and now? i’m not sure how many jars and gumballs it would take to truly represent the sheer number of times this president has lied to us, the populace aka his employers. it is not entertaining. it is not funny. it is outright pitiful, many gumballs past pathetic.
to realize that this period right now, the final approach to the election, is one of “the president’s most dishonest” spans of time is absolute lunacy. what is this country thinking? why, on this good earth, is it perfectly partisanly ok for the leader of the free world to constantly lie? he is a pathological liar and his egocentric comrades are both passively and actively complicit in their acceptance of his disorder, of forwarding his vast cauldron of mistruths, of his failures, of his vileness, of pushing his self-serving agenda, of aggrandizing his behavior.
this country will never win any contest guessing the number of presidential-lie-gumballs in the jar. instead, it will sink deeper into division, deeper into inequity and prejudice, deeper into an abyssmal lack of compassion, deeper into suppression, deeper into dark despair, deeper into the lies. this country will reside inside the pathological sickness in this president’s head.
i come from make-it-work stock. my sweet momma and poppo were children of the great depression and were not wasteful sorts. soap socks, squeezing every last vestige of shampoo from the bottle, re-using boxes, rube-goldberg fixes, not a lot of retail therapy. they made do with what they had and never complained. latest trends were mostly lost on them and competing for the best lawn/decor/car/wardrobe/jewels/stuff was not a thing. as the youngest child, with siblings much older than me who both married by the time i was eleven, i had much time to glean and learn to mimic their ways. making-it-work. it’s where i’m from.
and so now, empowered by these two forces of nature – my mom and my dad – with a new brace on my wrist, i am making do. after breaking both wrists the end of january in a snowboarding accident, i finally had healed fractures. the pandemic had interrupted all my occupational therapy and, thus, i’ve been frustrated by a lack of range of motion in my right wrist, so my old brace was often my companion. but i made it work. it’s where i’m from.
and then i fell.
the floor was wet and, unfortunately, unmarked as such. my feet flew out from underneath me and, in natural reflex action, i fell…on my right wrist. i felt right away something was wrong but waited to contact my dr for 48 hours, hoping for quick residing of the new pain. i’m pretty tough and it takes a lot for pain to get to me. d says i have a high tolerance for pain. i blame my mom and dad. they were tough and endured much in their lives. but this isn’t a post about my wrist – soon an MRI and a hand specialist will tell me what is now going on, post-fall. in the meanwhile, i keep on keeping on, just the same as after i simultaneously broke both wrists. making do. it’s where i’m from.
as we hiked along trails in aspen’s woods of color, we mused on how easily we were, well, amused. simply hiking, sitting alongside a creek, smelling the scent of autumn forest – these things were sheer entertainment for us. no restaurants, no bars, no shops, no shows required. (and, in the middle of a pandemic, not even considered.) i thought of all the times i had spent simply being outside, picking apples with my momma and poppo, taking drives, having picnics in parks at wooden tables carved with initials of people we would never know. as we sat around the table out on the balcony or socially-distanced in the condo, i thought of all the times i just spent simply coffee-sitting with my mom and dad, talking long over dinner, late-night conversations on the phone. as my daughter and i talked about my parents, her beaky and pa, i thought of their sacrifices, of their belief in all peoples regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, religion. i thought of their altruism, their open-mindedness, their embracing of new ideas and their love of learning new things and going new places, and i see their eyes reflected in both my daughter’s and son’s eyes. it’s where i’m from. and it’s where they’re from.
as we approach this very important time of voting, i worry about the narrative others are hearing, but not researching. i worry about the rhetoric coming from this white house, the absolute lies, the warping of truths, the sickening twist of stories, the re-defining of the definition of words, the lack of understanding, the self-serving agenda, the out and out falling prey to gross exaggerations of misinformation. i worry about those people listening to this, believing it, voting with this toxic barrage of falsehoods in their hearts.
and i think about my mom, who always, always, always said, “look it up.” yes. look further. research. find objective, factual resources and immerse in those. look. it. up.
although there are other tells and definitely some misses, there is one sure tell for me that someone is in the “other” camp: not. wearing. a. mask.
it is probably the most wearying part of navigating this pandemic. we have been told – clearly, undeniably, effusively – that wearing a mask will help to mitigate the spread of covid-19. over and over and over.
and over and over and over the current administration poo-poos the wearing of masks, equates it with weakness, warps it into a political statement, derailing all the good work of health care workers, researchers, scientists, medical experts. the current administration blatantly, pointedly, willfully, defiantly does not model wearing a mask as compassionate and absolute. instead, in some kind of lack-of-proper-leadership display, this self-serving-devotee models disdain and piggishness. social distancing at this white house, and the events in or out of the reigning house and around the country, is ignored. it is gut-level exhausting.
200 other countries have somehow figured out how to wear masks without whining, without carrying on about their right to breathe without a piece of cloth over their nose and mouth, without harassing people for their attempt to stop the further spread of this raging disease, without killing-dead people with requests to don a mask. i just want to scream, “grow the hell up!”
we are on a path, marching like lemmings toward more sickness, more death, more sadness and devastation for the people of this country. lives can be saved by wearing a mask, by social distancing and by washing your hands.
even i am tired of hearing myself say this over and over and over.
my niece and her husband have a newborn baby. this tiny little boy entered the world and their lives and has turned everything upside down in every good way. like all of us, i suspect, who have had experience with newborns, they are discovering that, despite all the mechanical and high-tech devices that have been invented to aid in caring for a newborn at the very-very beginning, the most prized is simply holding that baby. and they have gone all in, loving him, snuggling him and, i’m guessing, kissing the top of his sweet-baby-smelling head over and over and over while dreaming of all the moments in life as a family to come. all in.
my mother-in-law is in the middle of taking care of my father-in-law as he slips quietly deeper into dementia. she patiently explains to him where he is, who she is. she reassures him when he is worried or frightened. she shares pictures and stories, in soft tones explaining to him, at 87, that his parents are no longer present on this earth. she spoons out masses of his favorite ice cream in bowls each night. she makes him laugh. she makes sure he has everything he needs; she watches after his safety. she has sacrificed her own activities to defer to those that speak to him, those that he might be able to still partake in. his repeated stories elicit interest and open-ended questions from her, despite the redundancy. she makes sure that they play bingo each day to keep him thinking and engaged. she has deep compassion and deep commitment to caring for this very kind, sweet man, her husband, even in the midst of the hardest of days. all in.
we approach a time in our country that will necessitate all its citizens to go all in. so much is on the line. the freedom and equality of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic status, religion – the ability for people to be who they are and to be supported by a country that embraces them. we simply cannot ignore the direction in which the current leadership is sinking. we simply cannot strip rights from the populace, cannot empower this soulless extremism, cannot allow all the complicit, standing by clutching their elite wallets and positions of power without conscience, to be the rule-makers, to further divide this nation. we simply cannot stand by silently while conspiracy theories radicalize this country, while leadership without compassion or heart or honesty tends to its own narcissistic agenda. we simply cannot sit back while being catapulted backwards, rewinding decade upon decade, defining this country with ideologies of nationalism, of anti-feminism, anti-LGBTQ, no recognition of drastic racial bias devouring equalities, instead of stories of a country holding its citizens with deep love, reassurance, compassion and commitment.
we simply must concern ourselves – absolutely right now – with racial disparity, with LGBTQ rights, with healthcare, with this ongoing, raging global pandemic, with education and work and housing equality for all, with climate change threatening this earth, with the violence committed by people with guns of mass destruction, with recognizing our collaborative place in the world, with truth, with justice, with the welfare of every single citizen.
we all must go all in. we all must vote. every one of the 328 million of us who is of voting age. every last one of us. all in.
“who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? only the shadow knows.”
back in middle school we had to choose a radio show and emulate it by creating a new episode, complete with commercials. we chose “the shadow” and had a commercial that was for a toothpaste-like substance that could clean your floors, strip paint and brush your teeth simultaneously. it was a product clearly not endorsed by any brand-under-the-sun, but, as seventh-graders with gigantic imaginations, we had fun conceptualizing.
and so, we wrote a script for a new “the shadow” radio show (based on many episodes we listened to) and recorded it on cassette tape along with our brilliant ad campaign.
“the shadow knows,” we murmured to each other, at random times for days and days and, with middle-school-predictability, ad nauseam, followed by a wicked laugh.
david and i often photograph our shadows, as puppets in the sun. on beaches, on hiking trails, in rivers, on mountains, in the backyard, we stop, in the line of sunshine, and take a shot, sometimes deliberately posing for the picture.
in this time, with shadows lurking in every light and dark corner, we chose to make the sign of peace.
for there is presently too much evil lurking in the hearts of men these days and we cannot rely on ‘the shadow’ getting us out of this. the wicked laugh that accompanied these words of introduction chilled us back in the day. now we can hear that wicked laugh echoing in our mind’s eye. and the words of this radio show’s early days – “as you sow evil, so shall you reap evil!” – are, today, vexing and worrisome.
who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? the shadow – and their consciences – know.
so now what? this is not a middle school script. where do we go from here?