A family affair

We caught another mouse today.

Of all the life lessons my mother passed on to me, this is the one foremost in my mind, always:

“If you get mice, there’s never just one and life as you know it is over.”

There are several subsets to this rule:

  1. Do not make eye contact with them.
  2. Run away as fast as you can.. you are not capable of dealing with this.
  3. Stay in a hotel, better yet a Bed and Breakfast, until the problem no longer exists.

Now, this is what she taught me. This is what I believe.

This is number one on the list of my inadequacies, things I am not capable of.

My daughter, who has been living in the house, told me there have been several mice over the years. She says no one had to vacate the premises and everyone is alive and well.

I wanted to move home. I needed to be proactive about this issue.

I wrote to my pest control company of ten years: “Seems to me I keep paying you but mice continue to make themselves at home in my kitchen and pantry. I want Gus-Gus and all of his friends out, forever. Now.  Chop-chop. Finitus. This is a requirement of any further professional relationship we may have.”

I was confident there would be no problem by the time of my homecoming.

Shortly after my return, I told my daughter how I had taken the bull by the horns and sternly dealt with the pest control people. I was waiting to be assured there was no longer an issue.

Well, actually…

My daughter was distraught. “Why did you do that? This house is 120 years old. It has a dirt cellar. Of course we’re going to get mice every now and again!”

“This is unacceptable. We should not have mice. They make me throw up. I cannot be in a house with them. The pest control people need to do what I’m paying them for.”

“And who do you think you can find to do any better?”

“Well, I read about a place in New Jersey, I believe, that puts this material down that the vermin walk in. Then they can see with a black light where they get in and track them. Then they solve the problem.”

“So you think you can afford to bring someone down from Jersey because of a mouse?  Really?”

“I know I can’t. What am I gonna do?”

“You’re going to learn to deal with it.”

“I don’t think I can. I don’t.”

She just glared at me.

OMG. I’m going to need therapy. I wish I could talk to, well, anyone that could possibly advance me some funds for a hotel…. Not gonna happen.

What am I doing here???

This is what I am doing here:

the kids

The picture is a bit dated, but you get the picture.

I had made a list of what matters to me in life. I was surprised the list was quite lengthy as I always describe myself as rather Eeyore-like although the black clouds can dissipate very quickly on command. Can Eeyore scatter the clouds at will I wondered?

At the top of the list was family. I missed my grand babies. I wanted to watch them grow. I wanted to go to the school functions and bake for them. I wanted to hold them when they cried and share their laughter.

I want them to remember me.

One day shortly before I handed in my retirement papers, I had an experience with one of my patients. His sudden onset stomach ache turned into inoperable liver cancer. He was given two months to live. That fast.

It can happen in the blink of an eye. We are not promised a tomorrow. No one is. I wanted to be with my babies.

I look around at the Kool-Aid splashed on the white baseboards, all the Lego pieces scattered across the carpet, the stains on my dining room chairs. I look into the kitchen that I am afraid to enter because of rodent phobia.  I hear my smallest Grandson say “Can I play Subway Surfy on your first tablet (as opposed to my second)?” His smile is bright enough to chase even the darkest clouds away.

I am exactly where I want to be. Somehow, I will learn to confront, perhaps even embrace, the unpleasantries of life.

I read once that mice are one DNA strand away from us, that they are our cousins. Even the relatives that come for a visit leave at some point.

It’s just a family affair.

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Please tell him his brother will be Alex who is a very kind boy

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I’ve found a new hero.

Someone with purity of heart. Someone who has retained his innocence. You see, he hasn’t yet had time to learn the cruel lessons that life bestows on us with time. That’s not to say he hasn’t witnessed them, they just have not become ingrained in him. He practices the Thumper principle to the nth degree: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” He’s not yet afraid to communicate what’s in  his soul for fear of mockery. Oh, if it could always be so.

Pete Souza is a photojournalist by trade. He served as Chief Official White House Photographer for President Barack Obama. He’s seen it all to the point of 20K photos per week. In 2011, he was included on the list of  Washington’s Most-Powerful, Least-Important People.

Pete’s Instagram post of 2 days ago was indeed powerful and extremely important. I can feel the beginning of a flame ready to ignite my spirit, just a flicker now, but it’s a start.

The turmoil in my soul from the events of the last two weeks has left me burdened, emotionally bankrupt. I’m in anguish over how we have systematically determined who is worthy to be amongst us. In doing so, we are measuring the value of a human life.
Building walls, exclusion by, could it be, race and religion? I have to agree with those much more scholarly than I.  These actions are reminiscent of the 1939 rumblings of German politics and, a few years later, the Warsaw Ghetto.

I’ll say it again. What affects one of us affects all of us. Then comes Pete’s post. Let me copy it for you here:

Remember Alex, the six-year-old boy who wrote President Obama a letter about the Syrian boy photographed in the ambulance. Alex visited the Oval Office with his family the day after the election.

“Dear President Obama, Remember the boy who was picked up by the ambulance in Syria? Can you please go get him and bring him to [my home]? Park in the driveway or on the street and we will be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers, and balloons. We will give him a family and he will be our brother. Catherine, my little sister, will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him. In my school, I have a friend from Syria, Omar, and I will introduce him to Omar. We can all play together. We can invite him to birthday parties and he will teach us another language. We can teach him English too, just like my friend Aoto from Japan. Please tell him that his brother will be Alex who is a very kind boy, just like him. Since he won’t bring toys and doesn’t have toys Catherine will share her big blue stripy white bunny. And I will share my bike and I will teach him how to ride it. I will teach him additions and subtractions in math. And he [can] smell Catherine’s lip gloss penguin which is green. She doesn’t let anyone touch it. Thank you very much! I can’t wait for you to come! ”     Alex 6 years old 

Yes, Alex is my hero. He holds close the values which I wish could be foremost in my mind always. He already at 6 years embodies the qualities of kindness our forefathers have taught us. He sees the good and not the bad, he is shining through example, he is paying forward the kindness that has been bestowed upon him. He is a gift.

Alex, may you continue to illuminate the world with your smile and courage. May you follow your heart always, follow your bliss. Remember your words are powerful, that your words and your actions can change the world.

Years ago, a good man said heartfelt words about his brother. I copy them now because they speak of your character as well:

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

“Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”

Thank you, Alex, for rekindling some hope in this old soul.

And eternal thanks to you, Pete, for spreading this message of hope and inspiration.

Here is Alex and his Syrian brother

alex

Please follow Pete Souza here:

petesouza on Instagram

@PeteSouza on Twitter

  www.petesouza.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All that goes wth Christmas…

Merry Christmas.I’m home sick today, nursing a cough and cold and what you see is the extent of my holiday decorating. I’m drinking guava juice out of a reindeer wine glass wondering where has the sparkle of the holiday gone? But we’ll get to that a little bit later. My assigned duties for tomorrow are much more important than those I had today, according to the powers that be, so I decided I should try to get well today . It seems Interventional Procedures are more beneficial than providing psychological support and teaching people coping skills to deal with their chronic pain conditions, so far be it from me to miss the opportunity to serve them in that capacity manana.

December is always a tough one for me. My mom died 18 years in early December and Christmas hasn’t seemed the same without the idea that she’s happy in her kitchen making kolaches and peppernuts and sugar cookies and all the delicacies I remember so fondly from my childhood. I think she is somewhere, though, with a smile on her face enjoying the same fine memories and hoping we will carry on those long held traditions that were practiced so many generations before us.


Casey is home with me now. And I’ve enjoyed very much having him here.

I miss Grace, she’s in Portland, but doing well. She sends me pictures of the gingerbread houses she makes and from her snowboard and snowshoe trips she takes with her friends. She is such a joy and I’m glad she’s living her life fully.

Emmy and Jason and the kids are in Virginia. They’ve put up the tree and I’ve sent all of the packages to be placed under them. I haven’t been with them now for 5 Christmases. I haven’t been able to watch the children’s smiling faces on Christmas morning. How I’ve missed that! I’ll be home soon though.

March 17th is the day I’ve set for my retirement. I don’t know what I really think about that. I’m still going to have to work every day for the rest of my life, I’m sure.  The nagging thought of being put out to pasture remains.

San Francisco has priced me out as it has so many others and I can’t survive here any longer. The people who built the city, the ones who lived and laughed and fought to make San Francisco what it historically has been, all of those people have been replaced with folks here to spend and make a buck. Money talks and if this new influx of San Francisco immigrants can raise the price of studio apartments to $2000 a month and one bedroom apartments to $4000/month, the rest of us are gonna have to play along and try to do the best we can.

I, for one, can’t do it. I probably would if I could but it’s no longer a possibility. The feeling of the city, the ambiance isn’t the same. Folks don’t know their neighbors much less help them. It’s a mass of strangers passing each other every day on sidewalks. A “Good Morning” is usually not reciprocated and everyone is just going their own way trying to survive.

A city of beauty San Francisco is, but I don’t see the joy. I don’t see a community of benevolence like the San Francisco of yore. I belong to the Star of the Sea Catholic Community, I have been poorly participating I hate to admit. My friends ask where I have been and I respond I’ve been around. It makes me think where have I been?

I’ve been holed up in my studio apartment is where I’ve been, too poor to go anywhere or do anything. I know I should have heeded the signs earlier but I wouldn’t accept failure.

I’ve been here, the City of my Dreams, for over four years now. I’m in credit card hell because of it. I’ve also experienced spectacular times. My trip to Israel last February is still deeply embedded in my soul. I would never have been able to do that if I hadn’t been here.

The truth is, I have everything I could ever want or need. I’ve got my health (mostly). I’ve had a career that has, and hopefully will continue to serve me well. I have my family, my grand babies. All I could ever want. But I sit here in this little room and I feel empty. I feel numb. I feel like I don’t feel, but I do. I feel a sense of remorse in not being able to leave on my own terms. I feel incompetent that I couldn’t handle my finances more proficiently, I feel, basically, a sense of failure. I’m at an age where it’s difficult to find work. No age discrimination? Already experienced it. Will I be able to find meaningful work and keep my Virginia house? Will I find friends there? Is this a new beginning or an end to a nightmare? All these thoughts are tumbling around in my head instead of looking to a beautiful time ahead, watching my grandchildren grow, planting a garden, fixing up the house, putting it in order. I have so much to look forward to.

Absolutely overwhelmed. Situational depression. I suspect I’m not the only one who has ever felt this way. Isn’t it strange that you might know deep in your soul what needs to happen but just can’t get there?

Looking inward is not the answer. It’s when we look out and see the beautiful world and participate in it as it goes round and round that we feel whole. It truly is not about the “I” but the “we”. What affects one of us affects all of us I truly believe. The self-imposed isolation we suffer when we become frightened is incapacitating. These things I know.

So I’m going to take a cold pill, get ready to go to mass and listen to Father Joseph’s words and reflect on how to lead my life. What do I value most? What do I want my life to look like? What do we hold dear above all else? Father Joseph will remind me.

Ah Father Joseph. I’ll miss him so. I believe we are friends. I think if you’re not friends with someone you wouldn’t get mad enough at them to spit. We’ve been there. I will think of him and all that he represents always. He’s taught me volumes. I know exactly what he’ll be doing. He will be struggling with his conscience and then doing what he believes is right. He always does. If he ever thinks of me, I think he would feel bewildered. My path has never been linear. I suspect it will never be. But I hope he would remember that my heart is kind and mostly pure and that I really do want world peace.

This season of the year is complex. It brings out the best in us and sometimes the parts of us we would rather not acknowledge. But I still believe that people are basically good. I, for one, need to concentrate on the good in the world and give thanks that He chose me to be a part of his masterpiece. Happy Birthday, God!

Merry Christmas everybody! Visiting with you has really lifted my spirits. This special time of year is to be shared, even the dismal times. I thank you for being a part of my life. God Bless You and God Bless America… we’re in dire need.

                                                                                  
 

Thomas Hooker, Larger than life

Thomas —

“Who flew to and from the ocean every day, and spoke with birds, and he once woke to a cloud of butterflies kissing him — may he rest in peace.”

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by C.W. Nevis, San Francisco Chronicle

Thomas Hooker flew to the ocean every day.

Actually, he couldn’t fly. And to be honest, he probably never made it to the ocean either. But the thought of it always made him happy.

These are sad times up and down Clement Street in the Richmond District. Hooker, known as Thomas to residents, was a constant, cheery presence in the neighborhood. He died in his sleep at his campsite on Oct. 27.

Homeless and living out of a shopping cart for over 20 years, Hooker slept outdoors on the greenbelt at Funston and Clement. In the morning he’d walk over to Ninth Avenue to spend the day talking to neighbors — and himself.

“With his wording and his vocabulary, you could tell he was very educated,” said Robert Schaezlein, who has a silversmith shop on Clement. “He had kind of a cool aura about him. But he was also completely cuckoo.”

This isn’t a story of a group of people getting together, making a plan and taking care of a sweet, addled homeless guy. It is more the story of Thomas, who won everyone over with kind thoughts, unquenchable optimism and a gift for mystic imagery.

Lea Grey Dimond has run Thidwick’s Books on Clement since 1999. She and Thomas met up every day because his campsite was nearby.

“He liked to sleep in late and come home early,” Dimond said. “You never knew what he was going to say, and you knew he had his troubles. But my criteria for doing the right thing is doing the best you can with what you’ve got. Thomas was doing that.”

The day after he died, Dimond put a sign in the window of the bookstore: “Thomas — who flew to and from the ocean every day, and spoke with birds, and he once woke to a cloud of butterflies kissing him — may he rest in peace.”

Residents have been sharing memories all week. On Monday, a memorial service will be held at the Star of the Sea Church at 7 p.m.

Among those attending will be Arnold Low, who met Thomas at services at Star of the Sea. Impressed by the homeless man’s knowledge of Scripture, he began slipping him a few dollars each day and providing food items that were soft enough that Thomas could eat them despite missing several teeth.

“At one point we joked that maybe we could add him to our income tax return as a dependent,” Low said. “He was very approachable, always a big smile.”

Low once hired Thomas to clear out a garden patch at his home. He did a nice job and even asked Low for some scissors to trim his unruly beard and dreadlocks. It was one of several times when it seemed he might be able to turn his life around, but mental confusion always pulled him back to the street.

“One time I was looking for him and couldn’t find him,” Low said. “He said he’d been on vacation to the beach. Other times he’d tell me he’d won the lottery, ‘So many millions,’ he said. ‘I will give you some.”

He was the most giving homeless person I’ve ever run across,” Schaezlein said. “I’d walk by and he’d say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a doughnut. Want a doughnut?’”

The news of Thomas’ passing first appeared in the Richmond District Blog and readers filled the comment section with encounters and stories. A woman named Patricia, who said she’d lived near Thomas’ street site for 15 years, recalled the day she offered him some BBQ pork buns.

“He wouldn’t accept them!” she wrote. “And insisted on giving me a dollar. I was mortified. I mean, what kind of person takes a dollar from a homeless guy? I tried to give it back, but he was having none of it.”

As you might expect, there were many attempts to get Thomas into housing. He declined those offers, just as he did when Dimond, and others, offered him a tent.

He had such severe claustrophobia he just could not have done it,” she said. “He could not go inside.”

And that is why Dimond says she was sad to hear that Thomas had died, but was comforted in how it happened.

“He just laid down and went to sleep,” she said. “I am so thankful. It is the best death Thomas could have had. If an ambulance had been called he would have been strapped down and confined.”

Dimond contacted the city to make sure someone would take responsibility for Thomas’ body. And, she says, they’ve hit on the perfect burial.

“Thomas will be cremated and ashes scattered at sea,” she said, “which is exactly what he would have wanted.”

Godspeed Thomas. One last flight out over the waves.

http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/nevius/article/Homeless-man-leaves-legacy-of-kindness-10595055.php

Maggie

For Maggie

A fork in the road

The days are now passing quickly. An all too short summer is evolving into autumn. Leaves are starting to drop and every evening I crunch through them making my way home from the bus stop. I’m enjoying our annual Indian summer here in San Francisco. Most of the seasonal festivals have wrapped up. There’s still so much to enjoy before the predicted El Nino arrives.  In a few weeks time we will be celebrating Fleet Week, with the parade of ships through the Golden Gate, always sharing the spotlight with the Blue Angels. So majestic and always spectacular, reminding us that we too can dream and fly away.

My son, Casey, and I have always tried to celebrate his birthday in mid-September by boarding the Jeremiah
O’Brien, an old WW II vessel that hosts Brews on the Bay his birthday weekend every year. Good times. Casey has spread his wings…

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Postscript to Maggie

It’s been a year since I wrote about Maggie.
It’s been a year of promise with hope for healing, hope for returning to a “normal” life.
Now our hope has evolved into fear and despair as we grasp the true meaning of the circle of life.

Initially, after Maggie moved into the nursing home, my visits were frequent, 2-3 times per week as often as I could. We would enjoy talk of the days when our kids were little, all the silly things we had done and the fun times we’d experienced. She couldn’t wait to be able to be up and about so we could go to the casino once again. We frequently enjoyed dinner together, I would bring in whatever she was hungry for, but her appetite was not as voracious as I remembered. She just needs time, I would tell myself.
Visit after visit, over many months I witnessed no progress. For months at a time she had refused to get up in the chair, she wouldn’t advocate for herself to get the physical therapy she so desperately was in need of, actually the reason she had been placed at this facility.
She then refused to eat unless someone brought food in from the outside.
She had multiple complaints about how her household, which she still was fiscally responsible for was functioning, but refused to talk to the people involved.
Over the long run, she was physically deteriorating.
Basically, what I was witnessing was someone losing control of her environment and behaving as most people would.
Instead of feeling compassion and offering needed support, I became angry.
“Why won’t you try? I would say. ”You need to get well and go back to living a life of joy and purpose.
You need to get up in that chair and demand your PT. If you have pain, ask for your medication. It’s there for you.”
“I will, I will” she said but these things did not pass.

My visits got fewer and farther between. We would communicate electronically but that dwindled as well.
I visited her and brought dinner for her birthday in July. She slept a long while before noticing I was there.
Her CT scan showed progress she told me. Her hip hurt her so much but it was not metastasis. I asked what the Xray showed and she admitted there had been no Xray. “Then how do they know!!!” I asked loudly and most likely improperly. She did not answer. She did not eat much again that evening.
When I left, I kissed her and said I would be back soon but I left angry that there was no fight left, no willingness to try. I left feeling like these were conscious decisions.
I have not seen her since.

Today I received this text from our friend Bobby. “Just heard from Maggie’s son. She has been in ICU at UCSF. She had pneumonia, now her lung are full of fluid and the left lung has collapsed. They are moving her out today and making her comfortable until she passes. When I find out where they move her to, we should visit one last time.”

I immediately called Bobby. “What the hell” I’m yelling at him. “Those are fixable things. They can place a chest tube and get rid of the fluid. I cannot accept she is dying!!”
I had scared Bobby and he hung up. I was furious. I was furious at the disease, I was furious with Maggie that she did not fight it, but mostly I was angry that I had abandoned my friend, when she needed human connection the most.

I knew I was experiencing intense guilt over not being there, for not being the friend she deserved, for being so blind to the evidence and believing what I wanted to believe.
I’m a nurse.
I knew she had a metastatic spinal cord lesion. I had refused to admit the ramifications of this diagnosis. I knew her breast cancer was not in remission but believed things were improving. She had told me so.
I was angry at anybody and everybody associated with her care.
I, I, I….Me, me, me…
But this is not about me.
This is about a valiant woman who raised three sons single handedly against all odds while successfully holding down a career, caring for an ailing mother, orchestrating all family holiday festivities, she so loved to entertain. She had cared more for others than for herself.
During the last months, her many friends had rallied at her side.
I was, however, not one of them.

I will make my last visit and tell her how proud I am, have always been of her. I will acknowledge I have never forgotten her even though I was not by her side. I will tell her how she has touched my life in ways I cannot even describe.

I will remember her as a bright star in my universe and promise to see her soon. We will walk and talk together again.
I will say “Fly freely with the eagles and have the time of your life!”.
Then I will kiss her goodbye.

At what point I will deal with my own behavior, not taking note of how precious and short life is, how we are never promised another day, not being with her as a friend would be expected to be, I don’t know when I will address my sins of omission.
But I do know her memory will illuminate my path as I go forward in life for however many days I have left on this bright and beautiful earth.
I will remember what I was taught:
“Always give more than you take” and as I give back in return for my many blessings, I will see the twinkle in her eyes and that magnificent smile and know she is watching.