The Child-Catching Monster

A tall, thin man with dark, stringy hair, hollow cheeks, and a long nose haunts my childhood nightmares. He gleefully goes about his job catching children. Once captured the children go into a cage and are spirited off to parts unknown. As a kid, I was terrified of this monster and comforted in the knowledge that such an evil creature only existed in the movies. I am not alone in my assessment of the evildoer. Entertainment Weekly placed the depiction of the child-catcher in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, on their “50 Most Vile Villains” list.

So how did this monstrous fiend rise to the surface of my current nightmares? I turned on the news. My country, the United States of America, has an entire team of child-catchers who take children away from their parents, put them in cages then sends them to hidden locations.

These children are living the terror that I could only experience at the movies. And the response from the lawmakers in power has been a deafening silence. Even worse, from my fellow Americans who look away or shrug and say it’s the law. Some (Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders) even try to justify their actions using the Bible.

I’ve always wondered how regular people in Nazi Germany stood by while atrocities took place all around them. But the more relevant question is what am I doing? How am I any different than those who stood by eighty years ago. They too probably felt helpless to do much. Maybe some felt indifference and some even felt a sense of national pride.

I’m not trying to compare the Holocaust to events taking place at the U.S. border. I am only looking to this time in history as a means of trying to understand human nature. Anyone who has studied this period has asked themselves what they would do in similar circumstances. Well now’s your chance.

Here are some concrete things, short of building a flying car that you can do right now.

First, make your voice heard. Call or write your representative. You can call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard directly at 202-224-3121 or follow the link to get their name and address.

You can also donate to organizations that are actively working to help. Here are just a few:

American Immigration Representative Project fights for due process and justice for detained immigrants as well as trains and coordinates lawyers willing to donate their time:

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights champions the rights and best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children.

Kino Border Initiative provides humanitarian relief on both sides of the border

The National Immigrant Justice Center provides comprehensive legal services to low-income immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers

Removing children from their parents and siblings is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s a human issue. We can point fingers and debate who’s to blame for laws and policy, but the monstrous treatment of innocent children at our borders is being done on behalf of all Americans. If you don’t like the message, it sends, speak out, donate or protest. Children should be afraid of monsters, flying monkeys, giant lizards, or clowns, not Americans.

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The Meaning of Grace

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of Grace. I like to capitalize the word when using it regarding an experience coming from God. It’s my way of honoring it, as recognizing it as something sacred.

The dictionary doesn’t quite do it justice – “unmerited divine assistance, a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance, mercy, pardon, privilege.”

To me, Grace is the sense of calmness or peace that comes to me during moments of crisis. Once I was on a ship, sleeping soundly in the middle of the Caribbean. In the early hours of the morning, I woke to a succession of horn blasts. Jumping out of bed in a panic, I had a vague understanding of what the sound met since three days earlier; I had been forced to participate in a lifeboat drill. At the time, it had been a frivolous rite of passage for all sea travelers best done with an umbrella drink in hand.

Now as I calculated how many blasts I had heard and what it meant, the captain’s voice calmly answered. All passengers and crew were to report to their assigned muster stations immediately. There was a significant fire burning on board, and we were to follow emergency procedures. My husband opened the veranda door and pointed to live embers like tiny fireflies, landing on our plastic patio furniture.

I thought to myself, fire at sea. Holy crap this is bad! But when I opened the hallway door and saw my three kids pop their heads out of their interior room, I felt a wave a calm settle on my shoulders. Despite the distinct smell of smoke in the air and the sounds of panicked passengers shouting for loved ones, I felt no fear. I calmly told the kids to get their life jackets. I did the same, but only after slipping some clothes on along with my contacts. If I was going in a lifeboat, I wanted to be able to see what I was doing, and I wanted to be warm. It was like moving in slow motion, I knew all would be well, and I just had to follow directions.

We ascended the stairs with hundreds of fellow travelers and found our muster station. Lifeboats were prepared to lower. Crew members ran in and out, some blackened with soot. We participated in countless roll calls and wondered about the names repeated many times over with no response. Were these people lost, or worse, injured? Were they incapable of following directions? Who knew? What I did know, was there was absolutely no reason to panic.

Eight hours later, the fire which had destroyed several floors in the center of the ship was as last contained. The coast guard escorted us to safety, and we were sent home early from our seven-day vacation. One person did lose his life, and several were injured. I tell this story, not to freak anybody out about travel at sea, but because it’s the first time I could palpably feel that sense of calm coming, not from within, but from an unseen force beyond myself.

When I recounted the story to a friend, she told me what I had experienced was Grace.

Not being particularly religious, I didn’t have a name for it, but Grace felt right.

Since then I’ve had several instances when crisis surrounds me, and something overrides my natural instinct to run screaming from my circumstances and instead fills me with strength like a steel rod in my spine. Not every time has a happy ending, but strength and peace come.

Most people can think of a time when they felt this peace, this strength, this sense of calm. The challenge is to recognize Grace when no fires are burning. Grace is available to us, not just in moments of crisis, but all of the time, provided we are not too thick-headed to recognize it.

I asked another friend about the meaning of Grace, curious to hear his Muslim perspective.

He said, “We call it peace. Peace comes after realizing there is a superior plan and everything is under control. We don’t know the plan, which can make us feel uneasy, but wisdom comes in knowing the power of God and feeling harmony in that. We are but tiny humans with no power to control the whole system. So let yourself flow with the river of life. Don’t struggle to swim in the wrong direction.”

I couldn’t help but smile at the sound of Ellen DeGeneres’s voice as Dory saying, “Just keep swimming just keep swimming.” But I understood the Grace of his words. I often struggle with feelings of uncertainty. During a crisis, there’s nothing to do but just accept what is at the time – no time to overthink. That’s when Grace is most recognizable.

But, when I relax and allow the power of the current to carry me along, trusting that there is a divine plan at work, I know that is Grace as well. I like this. I feel my muscles relax ever so slightly and I become a little less thick-headed and a little more Graceful.

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Turn Friday the 13th into Your Lucky Day

No one has any clear explanation as to why Friday the 13th is supposed to be unlucky. There are plenty of theories which stem from bad stuff happening in ancient history, but even that is speculation. Fear of the date seems to be more of a Western phenomenon, which inexplicably grew during the 19th century. The fear is real, however. The condition even has a name; friggatriskaidekaphobia, which is fun to say and makes you sound smart at cocktail parties.

Friday the 13th turned out to be pretty lucky for the makers of the Friday the 13th film series, which has grossed over $700 million. It’s also a lucky day for fans of Alfred HitchcockSteve Buscemi and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who all have Friday the 13th birthdays.

If the date really bothers you, you’ll be glad to know that most years it happens only twice. Armed with the knowledge that a Friday landing on the 13th is a pretty rare occurrence, you might think of the day as fortuitous and worthy of celebration. Still feeling apprehensive? Try one or all of the following:

Thirteen Ways to Guarantee a Great Friday the 13th

1.) Start your day by taking 13 slow, deep, breaths.

2.) List 13 things you’re grateful for.

3.) Take a brisk walk. Walk for a minimum of 13 minutes, if you can manage more, it means extra luck throughout the day.

4.) Say hello to the first 13 people you see. Who knows what a smile and a “good morning” might do for someone worried about an unlucky day.

5.) Declutter your surroundings by finding 13 items to get rid of.

6.) Think of 13 things you admire about someone you love and tell them.

7.) Give away $13. Pass it on to a homeless person, a child or buy lunch for the person in line behind you. If you can’t find someone to share with, give it to your future self by shoving it into a coat pocket to forget about and discover later.

8.) Pick up a baker’s dozen of donuts or muffins to share with coworkers.

9.) Bring home 13 lovely flowers for yourself or someone you love.

10.) Select a nice $13 bottle of wine. An inexpensive bottle of wine can be shared and enjoyed just as much as a $1,300 bottle of wine and look at the money you’ve saved.

11.) Spread 13 pennies around at change counters for people needing an extra cent, or randomly drop in parking lots, or sidewalks so someone walking by might find a penny, pick it up and believe that all day long it will bring them luck.

12.) Celebrate the unique and incredible day with joy in your heart. Besides, tomorrow is Saturday.

13.) Skip this last one. Everyone knows 13 is an unlucky number.

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Losing My Religion – How Maya Angelou Saved Me From Post Election Grief

Losing My Religion – How Maya Angelou Saved Me From Post Election Grief

As someone who has a rather tenuous grasp on faith, I find it is tested on a regular basis. It’s as if God gets a kick out of watching my histrionics. I’m at least learning from the pattern though. As soon as I feel like I’ve got it all figured out, something horrible happens to completely rock my world. When it does, my immediate reaction is to shout, “Screw this and screw God! All this magic belief crap is bullshit and I should accept reality. You live, you die, and you become worm food.”

My temper tantrum doesn’t alleviate my pain and I’m left to stew in my thoughts. My misery does not lift right away, but eventually, I get tired of wallowing. I begin to consider my options of either changing my circumstances or changing my attitude – often a combination of both. Then the clouds slowly lift and life goes on.

There’s a moment between the time when my dark thoughts end and the tiniest bit of optimism creeps in, that I feel as if someone or something has had a hand in the shift. Sometimes it’s almost tangible. I’ll hear a song on the radio, or something will catch my eye, which causes me to stop in my tracks and break the endless soundtrack in my head. That’s when the change comes and I know it’s attributable to something greater than myself. When I can recognize that grace for what it is, I am filled with awe at its magnificence. I wish I could bottle it to save for later or for the next disaster. But I can’t; it’s like a dream that fades from my memory. Before long, my ego takes all the credit for my change in attitude and outlook.

After the election, I felt abandoned by my faith. The concept of grace seemed like a figment of my imagination. How could such a horrid, misogynist, racist, xenophobic person be elected by my fellow Americans? It must mean they too are equally horrid and everything I believe about there being goodness in the world is wrong. How could God let this happen?

Maybe there is no God. Maybe God is dead. My anger, frustration, and loss of faith has me contemplating liposuction, a boob job, and partial lobotomy to better fit into the new world order. I roll racist words around in my mouth to see what they taste like. They are bitter and it doesn’t take long before I realize the “If you can’t beat em join em” strategy isn’t going to work for me.

My tears fall, darkness looms, and I see no way of lifting myself, when I hear a voice. It’s not the voice of God, or my guardian angel – although I don’t know that I’d recognize their voices. Besides they’re both pissed at me for the “God is dead” thing. No, the voice I hear is that of Maya Angelou saying,

“Stop it! Stop it and be grateful.”

I’d heard her say that in an interview once and now her voice rings clearly in my head.

sad woman sitting alone in a empty room

I do stop it, more out of shock than of reverence. I answer the voice, “Are you freaking kidding me? You have no idea how bad things are right now.” I don’t say it out loud, but I wonder if this is how people felt when Hitler came into power. Did good people learn to put up and shut up before being rolled up into the wrong side of history.

I try to tell myself I’m being overly dramatic. I know plenty of people who aren’t horrible; certainly not Nazi sympathizers, who voted for trump. Maybe I’m the crazy one. Then I think about the threats of mass deportations, the Muslim ban, the pussy grabbing and now the cabinet appointees, ugh!  How can I live in a world where this kind of garbage passes for leadership?

Again the wise poet says with firmness,

“Stop it and be grateful.”

“For what,” I rail, “My whiteness? Do you want me to hide behind my race and privilege while the world around me burns? You, of all people should understand how wrong this is.” Her prose echo in my head,

“I note the obvious differences, between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

“That’s right. That’s why this is such a disaster. Now, get out of my head, you crazy ghost.” I’m not in the mood for inspiration.”

“What I pray for is humility to know that there is something greater than “I”. And I have to know that the brute, the bigot, and the batterer are all children of God, whether they know it or not, and I’m supposed to treat them accordingly.” 

I take a deep breath. I’m not good enough or wise enough, certainly not strong enough to keep up with the great Maya Angelou. Besides. I’m just one person. I think about the challenges she had to face, and feel embarrassed for my weakness. I hear the ping of my phone; a text from a friend about a gathering of women who plan to organize, fund raise and stay vigilant against the coming tide of injustice. I shake my head wondering how this tiny group can do anything, but respond, “count me in.”

I hear Maya’s voice one more time,

“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

I drag my sorry butt to a yoga class, eager to distract myself and quiet my mind. When I start the car I hear Andre Day’s voice belting out the chorus to her song, “I rise up.”

“Ugh.” I shout to the heavens. “All right already, I get it.”

I say a silent prayer of gratitude for whatever force enabled me to see things from a different perspective and apologize for losing my faith. I also give a shout out to Maya Angelou whose words never fail to enlighten and inspire. Then I vow to remember the grace I felt today and to learn to trust that it will show up tomorrow as well.

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A Fresh Take on the Empty-Nest

babybirdcropEmpty-Nest; the words I’ve been dreading. I’ve been here before. There’s the vicarious thrill of seeing your baby set off on a new adventure mixed with the pain of saying goodbye. My heart physically aches at the thought of my last kid, or even the two before him, heading out the door bound for college.

My experience doesn’t ease the pain of this last baby bird flying the coop. The finality of my last child leaving scares me. My child – yes I know there’s wisdom in Khalil Gibran’s words, “Your children are not your children.” It is a beautiful sentiment, but Gibran didn’t even have children. What the hell did he know? I understand the concept that my children are not mine in the sense that I don’t possess them body and soul. But in coming through me they take a part of me; leaving me feeling less than whole when they’re gone.

It’s not even the physical departure that hurts. I know from experience they never really leave. They visit often. They share their successes; even seek advice with their failures. These moments, however, become fewer and farther in between. But it’s a slow progression; less painful than the abrupt rip of my heart that I brace for. I know, like the jab of a needle, the anticipation is worse than the actual experience. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t help but flinch at the thought of it.

I think the heartbreak comes from reaching the milestone rather than the actual flying away. The first steps, the first lost tooth, the first day of school, first date, driver’s license; these are all steps in the natural progression of events toward the day they leave. As a parent you spend decades dedicating your life, your love – your being, to the health and welfare of your child. Then, poof, your job is over. No wonder parents feel depleted once it’s all said and done.

I propose a paradigm shift for the empty-nest syndrome.

First, we need to ditch that label. There’s nothing empty about our lives. Our homes and hearts may feel temporarily vacated, but this is not a terminal condition. If anything, the extra space we now possess is filled with possibilities. We’re not empty, we’re free. We’re free from the challenges our beloved offspring present on a regular basis.

We’ll always be parents, but now we’re kid-free parents (KFPs).

Maybe KFPs need a commencement ceremony to solidify their new status. Just like our graduates, we deserve a new outfit for the event or at least a new pair of shoes. We should throw a party. Maybe have friends and family bring gifts to help launch us into this next phase of life.

This is after all, a beginning, not an end.

Our kids are sent with new linens and decorations for their dorm rooms. We should at least get a new set of sheets (the really nice ones with Egyptian cotton and a high thread count). Perhaps we too should expand our education. We could take cooking lessons or a pottery class, maybe learn to speak Italian. The point is, as a new KFP, we’ve got to place ourselves in situations that allow us to try new things and meet new people.

Let’s start a national initiative to encourage the dreams of these newly awakened individuals who, after taking time out to help procreate the human race, still have a future ahead of them. I challenge my fellow KFPs to pull out a picture of yourself before kids. Forgive yourself for the overly permed hair and padded shoulders and look deep into the eyes of the person you once were. What passions have you set aside in order to take on the all-important role of parent? Are they still there or do you have new ones? Now go forth with the same enthusiasm and determination you’ve managed to foster in your children and reclaim your own hopes and dreams.

By all means, love your kids, miss your kids, but don’t do it at the expense of losing yourself. You deserve a reward for raising an awesome human being. Now it’s time to get out there and raise the person you were meant to be. At least until they call to say you’re going to be a grandparent, then all bets are off.

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