Sunday Morning ~ Forty Years From Malawi to Maine

Sunday Morning ~ Forty Years From Malawi to Maine

Caona mwana tola; ukulu nkuona kako. ~ What the child has seen, pick it up. Being mature is to find your own.

~ Chewa proverb

May 24, 2020

Hi Everyone,

My oldest turned forty this week. Yikes. I have a child who is forty years old. Remember when being forty seemed really old? I’m having a hard time getting my head around this. I remember turning thirty thinking, yikes, in ten years I’ll be forty. And now I have a kid who’s forty. When that decade turned for me I still felt twenty. Except for the fact that I had a SEVENTEEN year old child plus four others. Holy smokes.

I was always a big planner and mapped out all my milestones when I was a kid. Looking at a National Geographic magazine made me decide turning forty was to be done in Venice. Oh the romance! The markets, the canals, the art! When I made that plan it seemed I might as well be tuning one hundred. Turning forty was eons away. A lifetime away! More than a lifetime away. The next ice age or something. But there it was, coming at me and I had to make good on my plan. Yes, I always felt once the plan was made it must be executed. I spent many hours as a visiting nurse sitting with those at the end of their life. They often said, “I wish I’d (fill in the blank) when I had the chance.” I vowed over and over not to die like that. I did not want to be an old woman filled with regrets and unfulfilled longing which seemed to me a cancer in itself. So off to Venice to fulfill the scripture! My mother, bless her to the stars and back, came to stay with our five teenagers so we could board a flight to Italy, leaving her with a hundred miles a day to drive the kids to all their activities. Our paltry contribution to her good deed was bringing in a television to preserve her sanity. God. I hope I made that up to her.

The attempt to retrieve romance, fall in love with each other again, shake off the stress of having five teenagers, and forget about work, was all secondary to turing forty in Venice. The swarms of tourists didn’t bother me. The polluted canals didn’t bother me. It was all an ecstasy of art, engineering, and history. We meandered, got lost a lot (something that drove Joe mad), argued about that, (“What is the problem? You have a meeting to get to or something?”), and walked a million miles sucking up all the mind boggling architecture. We ate gorgeous lunches and snacked on olives for suppers. Joe gave me diamond earrings which, kind as it was, was a bit of a disappointment since I had asked for a ring. Not having gotten an engagement ring, I asked for one for my birthday but for some reason, getting me what I wanted was not in my husband’s scope of practice. That would have shown weakness or something. So he got me diamond earrings and I pretended (not very well) that I liked them. I was in Venice. That was the important thing. I vowed to make each decade better than the last and buy my own birthday presents.

Now I have a child who is forty and it makes me feel like I’m moving to a new stage of life; like he’s moving into middle age so I must be moving into senescence. My mother seemed old when I was forty. Well, she was a lot older than me when she had kids, so I guess I shouldn’t compare, but I have been walking around this week thinking more about my joints.

He was born at 6:12 a.m. after a long labor. This week, forty years after that day, I woke early and wrote to him, sending it at the exact minute he was born. Amazing how we can do that, isn’t it? We talked and he told me I was very brave and slightly crazy to have had a child so young so far away from home. What was I thinking? he asked rather accusingly. I said, “Women do have babies all over the world, you know.” but his tone did echo several other family members’ at the time.

I never worried about having a baby in Malawi; I felt safer there than I did in our medical system. I worried about the world we were bringing him into. The Russians had invaded Afghanistan, Reagan was about to be elected, Mount Saint Helen just blew it’s top off, and John Lennon had been shot. I was terrified the world was ending. I thought not only would we be raising a child but we’d have to fix the world too! Came up a little short on that last one.

He was ten months old when we left Malawi. We weepingly said goodbye to our village and dog, got into a rickety boat that rowed us out to the Ilala, the lake steamer that would take us south. In 1981 the road south was still a dirt trail up an escarpment and was impassable in the rainy season. There was no dock in Karonga where we lived, so we had to pile into a small boat that took us out to the steamer. There we handed up the cargo and children to the deckhands and climbed aboard. It took three days to get to Lilongwe where we ended our Peace Corps service, a process much simpler then than now.  Now it’s like a week long process. Then, they handed you your passport and some money and said goodbye.

At that time, British Airways let you stop anywhere along your route for free as long as you didn’t venture more than five hundred miles off the course, so we looked at the flight route from Malawi to Boston and picked all the places we wanted to stop along the way. We decided to spend two months traveling, arriving home just before Matt’s first birthday. It seems astounding to me now that British Airways allowed you to treat it like a hop on hop off bus but that’s how it was. I laugh now just to think of it. So we stopped in Kenya for a week just to see Nairobi and it’s environs, admitting to ourselves that climbing Kilimanjaro with a baby was probably not a good idea. From there we went to Sudan for a few days seeing Juba then staying in Khartoum to see where the Blue and White Niles meet. There was no war in Sudan back then. Imagine. Then it was to Egypt for a fascinating week in and around Cairo, then to Athens to see the major sights. Rome for Easter seemed a good idea, and we’d met a seminarian in Malawi who set us up with a place to stay and Easter dinner at the seminary near the Vatican. It was before the Pieta was smashed by a crazy person, so on Good Friday we stood in the front of a huge crowd, feeding Matt oreos to keep him quiet, waiting for Pope John Paul II’s Friday audience. Being so close to this holy man as he processed past Michelangelo’s Pieta is still one of the most spiritually moving moments of my life. He was so close to us. Joe held Matt out toward the procession and the pope looked straight at my child, smiled, and made a graceful sweeping sign of the cross. Call it wishful thinking, but deep in my bones I believed that blessing would protect my child forever. Maybe it has. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ If We Only Knew

Sunday Morning ~ If We Only Knew

Ciipira acaje, amace ndi mwana. ~ The one who is nasty for others keeps being a child to his own mother.

~ Chewa proverb

May, 17, 2020

Hi Everyone,

So last Sunday I told myself, “Do not look at Facebook, do not look at Facebook, do not look at Facebook…” a tool I appreciate in many ways but one that makes Mother’s Day like scab picking for me. When my kids were growing up their father made a splash out of Mother’s Day. This was long before I could share these images with the world. He’d buy me presents and put the kids names on them, give me many funny cards, breakfast in bed, and meals he prepared in a loving manner. I was appreciative of the intent but him cooking meant that: a) I had to eat it, and b) he spent most of the day making a huge mess in the kitchen and part of the evening cleaning part of it up. Monday, the roasting pans and piles of grunge in the sink corners were somehow neutral territory now that Mother’s Day was over. Erma Bombeck wrote: “Later, when you decide it would be easier to move to a new house rather than clean the kitchen…” a line that always came to mind the Monday after Mother’s Day. Those were quaint times, simple really, and I miss them, messy kitchen and all. My mother cooked and cleaned on Mother’s Day, but I’d make her cards and some crap gift she oohed and ahhed over, stifling a laugh now that I think of it. When I got older and had no money, I gave her a list of promises as a gift, written in floury loopy handwriting with hearts dotting the i’s. When we went through her papers when she was dying I found that list, so it must have meant something to her. I miss her, too.  

After my husband left, so did any celebration of Mother’s Day. It was harsh. For many years afterward the kids all felt it was a Hallmark holiday and weren’t going to buy into it, a notion I agree with, but still. The every-day-is-mother’s-day is a nice nod but they weren’t calling to acknowledge me any other day either. I told myself to get over it. And don’t look at Facebook!  The lockdown and isolation seems to have softened them a bit. Or maybe it is adulthood, but this year I went up a full 60% and heard from all my children. A message or call is what I wanted and got and I am glad. And believe me, I was keeping track. By nine a.m. I’d received a text from one and a call from another. 40%. I thought that was pretty good and went through my day not expecting anything more. I repeated my mantra, “Stay away from Facebook” and pretended I didn’t care. I went for a long walk, missed a turn, took a longer walk, and pretended I was fine! Evening brought another call, then another and I went to bed thinking four out of five was pretty good. When I got up on Monday there was a text sent at 11 p.m., just under the wire and I thought all day how happy I was that I finally was batting a thousand! Then I went on-line and bought myself a present and tried to remember the poem about buying yourself flowers or something like that, but was more practical and settled on nice new sheets. I find I either sleep really well these nights or don’t sleep at all. Sheets have become a more important part of my daily existence. I thought I deserved something special to spend so many hours wrapped in. I bought bamboo and love them. Thank you.

It really is critical to survival of the species that we do not know what we are getting into when we have kids. No matter how many books we read, stories we hear, lived experiences we’ve had, we still think we are going to do it right and better and have kids that fulfill the missing parts of ourselves. What a terrible burden to lay on them. I wanted a family so badly from the time I can remember. My dolls were real to me and I cared for them like real babies, irate if anyone treated them otherwise. I came of age when women finally had choices about procreation. I chose a big family, it wasn’t an accident. And there have been many times during the raising of my children I wondered what I was doing wrong.  All my good intentions weren’t enough and things were not turning out how I expected. And, yup. That’s how motherhood is. 

During this time which, I think we can all agree, is historic, I think people should be writing about their experiences. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I keep a daily journal and write this blog every week, but this is just me. I wish I had access to mothers’ daily experiences across time, not just the noble women who could write, but every woman. I want to know what she felt and thought about raising kids. Honest feelings and honest reflections. History is clearly and obviously skewed by male writing and perspective. What was it like for women in 1918, day to day? How did her heart break when she lost a child? I imagine it based on how I feel when I’m sad if a child of mine is suffering, but I want to know about the grief she felt; the fatigue of just getting through a day trying to keep everyone alive. I want to know her story and I want her to tell it. We can’t go back and get those stories but we can get women’s stories now. So write girls! As if no one will read it. And make it from the gut and heart. I want to believe the world will survive this and your stories will help shape the remake. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Mothers With Sons Who Run

Sunday Morning ~ Mothers With Sons Who Run

Cikumbutsa nkhwangwa mdi cisanu. ~ It is the cold that reminds us of the axe.

~ Chewa proverb

May 10, 2020

Hi Everyone,

My five children all arrived into a changing family dynamic with unique reactions to our family events. Child rearing often blindsided us while their accomplishments delighted us. They quickly taught me the vision I had for them had nothing to do with the one they had for themselves. Some hard times were easier to roll with than others, I guess stemming from my own experiences as a child. I never wanted my offspring to experience the painful parts of my childhood and naively thought I was more enlightened and therefore more capable of protecting them than my parents were. I thought I’d be more on top of things. It didn’t take long for that comeuppance to hit home. 

It was my mother who noticed one of my children spent an inordinate amount of time running in circles. I hadn’t noticed it as there were always kids running around in the house. I ignored the activity until someone fell or broke something. My mother asked, “What’s the matter with this kid he keeps running in circles?” as if he were poking needles in his own eye. I snapped back at her, “Why do you care? Is he hurting you?” always sensitive to her criticism.  But after that comment I did start watching more closely and he did run in circles. Huh. It started looking strange to me and I started thinking it did sorta look like something was wrong. I pointed it out to my husband and asked, “Do you think this is a sign of some problem?”  He brushed it off as if I were overreacting. I focused on other issues. But then I’d watch his little red jacket going by in the woods when I looked out the kitchen window. I thought it was great he was playing in the woods but one day I went out there and could see a deep track he had made by running in the same circle over and over. He was a loner and had more trouble socially than any of my other kids. He ran in circles in the woods, he ran circles in the house, rerouting if something blocked his way. He seemed to meditate and self soothe that way. It seemed a good coping mechanism for him. I tried not to make an issue of it.

In elementary school he was bullied and it left scars. He was getting in fights and I worried constantly about him. He ran cross country and did well and I’d hoped that would boost his self-esteem. It was a positive thing but he still struggled. High school was different. Track, specifically running the mile, became an event that would alter his life. He’d been training for this since he could walk. He was good. His coach, who to this day I credit for the positive pivot my son’s life took, cared about him. I’d stand at the chain link fence and watch him giving my son feedback. I watched my son listen and nod his head. I was grateful this coach knew how to connect with this running son of mine. It was crazy exciting to watch him run the mile. I’d barely breathe for the four minutes and thirty-eight seconds it took. By the end I was screaming and flailing my arms to the point I had to warn people sitting near me. He’d start out at the back of the pack and slowly move up lap after lap, his ponytail flying out behind him. He reminded me of a pony set free, graceful and fluid. Awkward in many other aspects of life, he would glide over the track with some combination of God given talent, dedicated coaching, and pent up angry energy at how his world treated him. He often won the race in the final few feet. I loved being his mom. I loved sitting in the stands hearing parents from other towns say, “Watch this kid, he’s amazing.” I’d think, “Yes, that’s my son. He’s amazing.” 

I was never a runner but he made me want to be. I asked him to help me train to run a half marathon for my fiftieth birthday. He agreed. He’d say things like, “Remember, there is never a day when you don’t run.” and I’d absorb that like a sponge. I have no idea where he got this or if he made it up, but every time I didn’t want to run I would think of him saying that sentence and would force myself to run. I wanted to honor him. Running saved him and I wanted it to save me, too. I became stronger and started liking it more. I realized I don’t like the first two miles but after that I felt good. I stuck with it because it was running that changed my kid’s life and I wanted to understand the experience. We’ve run a marathon together. (Well, it was the same marathon but I was no where near him after the first two seconds. We didn’t actually run it together.) I think often that my child’s life was saved by running. But today I can’t stop thinking of  another mother’s son, taken by running because of the color of his skin. I can’t stop thinking about her. I wonder if she cheered him on during races? Was he a high school star?  I wonder if she felt that running changed or saved his life? I wonder if she were grateful to his coaches for helping him? It’s her first Mother’s Day without him and I don’t know how she can she bear it. I want to reach inside her and help carry her grief. I want her to know I am sorry for the burden she carries. I worried about my kids for all sorts of reasons but never worried they’d be shot while running. I always felt that if my son were running he’d be ok. I wonder if she felt that way? As long as he was running, everything would be ok. 

Mother’s Day is hard for so many. For every mother who has lost a child, I am sorry. None of it is fair.  

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Shining, Gleaming, Steaming, Flaxen, Waxen

Sunday Morning ~ Shining, Gleaming, Steaming, Flaxen, Waxen

Ukapanda tsitsi, usamabise lumo. ~ If you have no hair, do not hide the razor blade.

~Chewa proverb

May 3, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about their hair this week. I get it. I’ve had short hair for a long time and one day you wake in the morning and it’s too long. It happens overnight. You have to get your haircut that day. It can’t wait another minute. Little wings sprouted over your ears while you slept; your bangs, grazing your eyes for a few days now, are suddenly IN your eyes. They are too short to put behind your ears and too long to make vision involuntary. It’s an emergency. You can’t think of anything else. You cringe every time you walk by a mirror, unable to glance away from the horror. Of course, there aren’t many hairdressers who can give you an appointment on that exact day at the exact hour you are free, even though when you call you make it sound like you’ve got appendicitis. You (I) are (am) not the type of person to book your (my) haircuts six weeks ahead, because who knows what the world will be like then? There might be a pandemic and you’d have to cancel anyway. Then you (I) find out there isn’t an opening for two weeks! What? How can that be? This dire situation can’t wait two weeks! Even if it is the result of my own poor planning. I’m sure every hairstylist has thought that to herself or maybe even said it out loud to the lucky customer sitting in the chair at that very moment.

I used to have hair long enough to sit on. I started growing it long in junior high, either because everyone else had long hair or one of my friends told me to. I had to get my father’s permission to grow it long and had to agree to keep it out of my face. It was the late 60’s and the contempt my father had for “women libbers” was only outdone by the contempt he had for hippies. I could put it in braids and french twists. I agreed to the terms and let it grow. It was easy enough to brush, wavy, and not too thick, and the damage done by hot curlers and sun exposure was remedied by baby oil, which, also fried my skin. Lucky for me I had mediterranean genes. When I got to college I found myself still wearing my long hair pulled tightly away from my face even though I was free from the parental restrictions. It was required in labs and certainly in clinical rotations. One day, riding my bike from campus to my apartment in Brookline I looked over my right shoulder to cross traffic. I had my hair pulled back and secured with one of those trendy leather patches with a stick going through it. When I turned my head, the stick came out and the leather patch fell off. My hair came down and when I turned to look forward the wind blew it across my face. I was riding my bike down the yellow line of Brookline Ave in rush hour traffic, cars going both ways, blinded by my hair. I didn’t panic (well, I did panic, I didn’t lose control) shook my head slightly while keeping the bike steady going as straight as I could until some of the hair blew back and I could see again. I so could have been killed by my hair. I was attached to my long hair and didn’t consider cutting it despite the risks it posed. Not long after that incident I spent my last summer at home. I couldn’t find a summer job, had no car, and was bored. I had way too much free time and hardly any money. I took a bike ride one day up through Stow with my hair secured in a ponytail never to repeat the hair/traffic incident. On my way home I passed the shopping center where I saw a new hair salon had opened. I coasted into the parking lot, locked my bike to a stop sign, and went in. The place was empty. I asked if I could get my haircut and they took me immediately to an empty seat. This may have set off alarm bells for some people but I was happy with the accommodating atmosphere. She asked how short? I said, “All of it. Short. Cut it off.” This was the most impulsive thing I had ever done. She asked several times if I wanted to do that all at once? Go shoulder-length maybe first? Nope. All off. Short. 

I wonder now what led me to that impulsive act? Boredom? Bad hair day? Frustration with my life? I had a boyfriend at the time but couldn’t see him much in the summer. He lived in Wellesley, had a convertible, and a summer job. We had no cell phones. I couldn’t text him and ask if he thought I should chop all my hair off. Texts were science fiction in that day and age. I only remember him coming into my thoughts on the matter insofar as the fun of seeing his reaction. Long hair was a huge deal at the time. Guys dated women for their hair. It could have been the end of that relationship for all I knew but I never gave that a thought. Maybe I was secure in the idea that he like me for me. She started cutting and I was happy. I felt freer by the snip. The waves turned into curls and the color seemed a darker brown. I loved it. I must have had cash shoved into the pocket of my cut offs because I pulled out the six dollars it cost. I don’t think I knew enough to leave a tip. It was 1975 and I hadn’t learned all the unwritten social rules of hair salons. I got on my bike, helmet-less and smiling, happy, anticipating the shock value of returning home. I often felt like a wallflower and was looking forward to a little attention. First my mother: Scream! Then an admiring approach to run her fingers through the short curls. That made me happy. I tossed my head around to see how it felt. I loved it. I went upstairs to her bedroom, the only one with a mirror. My sister could, and still can, make me laugh harder than anyone else. That choking unable to breathe laugh. The pain in my stomach laugh. She bounced down from her attic bedroom, the one I’d vacated to go to college. She peered into my mother’s bedroom when she saw me, then screamed. She yelled “Why didn’t you warn me?” and flopped onto the bed as if the shock was just too much to bear. She did have a flair for drama and her hair was much more important to her than mine was to me. I laughed. When she recovered herself she came over to rub my head and toss the curls and examine the damage more closely. She liked it. I remember being happy she did.

The boyfriend liked it too. He picked me up on a street corner in his convertible on a day I’d planned a trip into Boston. I hadn’t told him about the haircut. It was a big change. He did a double take and smiled. He was a man of few words and didn’t say a thing. I hopped into the car and he turned onto the road looking straight ahead. At the first stoplight he reached over and rubbed my head like a poodle. He smiled and said, “I like it.”

I’ve had short hair ever since and realized there is a price to pay. Haircuts, for instance every four to six weeks. Where I live there are no chain haircutters that take walk-ins and most of the places I’ve lived the situation has been similar. I don’t care who cuts my hair so never had an attachment to a particular stylist. I have been to hairdressers all over the world and my hair always looks the same. For that reason I hate paying a lot of money to have my hair cut. Well, I hate paying a lot of money for anything, but especially that. I’m not fussy, always want it the same way, don’t require a blow dry or even a shampoo. Years ago when I couldn’t get an appointment before my hair drove me mad I took matters into my own hands. I thought I’d just cut off the little wings that look so cute on a two year old. I did that and it didn’t look too bad. So I kept going. I trimmed the bangs and… there, that was better, then started on the top and before I knew it, I had a haircut that looked pretty much the same as when I paid for it. I left the back alone since I couldn’t see it. Years of this self-grooming has left me well prepared for this very pandemic moment. My bathroom, a pair of scissors, and apathy for my appearance are all I need to make the zoom close-ups tolerable.

Stay safe everyone. Hang in there. Cut it yourself. It’ll grow back.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Reaching Out

Sunday Morning ~ Reaching Out

Bwenzi mdi mtanthira, miamba udaolotsa khoswe. ~ Friendship is a bridge, the fish helped the mouse to cross.

~ Chewa proverb

April 26, 2020

Hi Everyone,

Earth Day was this week and a friend asked me what I did on the first Earth Day fifty years ago. She said she and her friends rode their bikes to school and it was a vivid memory. I thought back and could not remember the first Earth Day. Nothing. Nada. Don’t remember it being a thing at all. I was in eighth grade, probably thinking about softball season. Might have still been a cheerleader for basketball, but that season was probably over by then. Anyway, not a single recollection. I don’t remember our teachers talking about it, nothing on the news, I couldn’t find even a piece of lint in my memory containing the fibers of the first Earth Day. I pride myself on remembering a lot about childhood, so this was disturbing me a little. When we had our Friday night check-in, I asked my high school friends if they remember doing anything for the first Earth Day? The responses were unanimously negative. “Wait, when is it? When was the first one?” I wonder if some of the older kids pulled the old tires and shopping carts out of the Assabet River that day? We struggled to remember who our science teacher was that year. When we finally remembered, the traits we recalled were not environmentalism but rather bullying and the knack he had for making students cry. And yet, look how good we all turned out!

This week I’ve been thinking about friends. It’s so interesting how this pandemic has reconnected me or deepened my relationship to many friends. In my attempt to support the postal system I’ve been sending out at least one card per day. In response, I got a call this week from a relative of one of my ex’s and we had a splendid chat. It was such a gift! It’s an art, I’m learning, to remain friends with people you’d thought you’d lose when a relationship goes south. They are like tender seedlings I’m learning. Takes some nurturing.

I reached out this week to a long lost friend I grew up with. Her family lived close to mine, though the town was so small no one was very far away. We spent many hours walking, knitting, talking, reading, and when we got to be adolescents, taking the train into Boston together to go shopping. I can’t believe we were allowed to do that but I don’t remember it ever being an issue. Maybe we didn’t ask. I never saw her again after we graduated high school. I never communicated with her again either. I went off to college and made different friends, stopped coming home for summers after my freshman year, met my future husband, and went on to a very different life. I never knew what happened to her.

Almost two years ago I tried to find her through Facebook. What a little gem that is for something like this. I know it’s rubbish for a lot of reasons, but for finding old friends, it’s really very handy. Anyway, I never found her there but did find her sister who I wrote to. I asked about the whereabouts of my lost friend and if I might get her contact information. It took almost two years to get a response but I did this week. And I wrote. And she wrote back. And I am overwhelmed. 

I thought about that overwhelmed feeling as I reflected on what she wrote. It’s been forty-six years. She mentioned images that stuck in her mind about me and about my mother and family. It was so beautifully and eloquently written. It was like reading a beautiful poem about parts of my life, some I had considered mundane. She made them beautiful. While I remember my bedroom as an unheated attic where I spent hours crying about the tragedy of my life, she wrote about as a cozy secluded refuge. My mother leaving my laundry on the steps to the attic, I thought of as a tedious chore she resented, snapping at me to put them away as I often just took what I needed and left the rumpled pile there on the steps. My friend remembered this act as a loving gesture of a graceful woman caring for her family. I realize now how inconsiderate my teenage behavior was to my mother, who was indeed caring for me. Had I apologized for that behavior? Ever? Before she died? Thanked her, ever, for doing my laundry? My friend remembered things I hadn’t thought about in years. The things she chose to write about, things that stood out in her memory, took my breath away. I was way too young to understand the complexities of our separate circumstances. How humbling to see them highlighted differently. 

When we were young teens we often walked six or seven miles, maybe more, on Sunday afternoons. We never stopped talking, kicking leaves, exploring landscapes. She was wise for her age. She was so kind. She had beautiful hair. She sat in front of me in history class. Once I had something in my eye and was going mad trying to get it out. She turned around and saw my struggle, gently leaned toward me and took a single strand of hair from my bangs out of my eye, as if it were the size of a pencil. She smiled at me as my agony resolved and turned back to the blackboard covered in chalky sanitized history about great white men who fought and saved us. I’ve never forgotten that moment. It stands out in all the hours we spent together. An act of kindness, yes, but it was more than that. It was knowing me, knowing it was ok to touch me and reach out to help. It was no expectation of thanks or praise. It was a human connection in a world that was not kind to either of us, but especially unkind to her.

Two people this week have lifted me and made me feel important and loved. A phone call and an email. They made me richer and more secure. They made me smile more, walk lighter, sleep better. They made me believe more in the value of reaching out. It’s always the correct answer.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Pride Goeth…

Sunday Morning ~ Pride Goeth…

Cenjere-cenjere sakupha nsomba, akupha nsomba n’kombe. ~ Being boastful does not kill fish, it is the net that kills fish.

~ Chewa proverb

April 19, 2020

Hi Everyone,

Before this virus changed the world I was considering a retreat, though I wasn’t sure what that would look like. I thought maybe two weeks in some quiet remote setting where I would have to spend time just thinking and being alone. Wandering through the streets of Lisbon by myself didn’t suffice. It wasn’t the spiritual experience I was hoping for. There was no epiphany. I was constantly stimulated by new sights and lessons and I didn’t really do enough self examination. I wondered where I could go to be away from all my social structure and familiar overcommitment. Then voila! It was handed to me. Good timing for me. Not so for others, I know.

I’ve been reading about white privilege. I’ve said many times since this shelter in place started that I am very privileged and I know it. I have a large comfortable place to stay. I have acres of land to be outside. I have trails to walk in the woods and ducks to watch swimming in the heath. I have friends to communicate with and satisfying work I can do from home. I had been on an enriching vacation for an entire month traveling around Europe just before this all started. I have a freezer full of food, some of which has been there for a long time and is still good. Maybe not premium but it’s satisfying to use it up and I’m not trying to impress anyone. I feel like I was made for this. I’m not lonely. I have lots of books to read. I have movies to watch. I have plenty of projects to work on. I have money enough to buy the supplies I need to work on them. I am healthy. I’m learning new skills, like making cement countertops. I worked hard all my life to earn these comforts but I still feel sorry knowing others are struggling. I’ve made good practical decisions. I’ve made some impulsive ones as well, but many of those worked out well, too. I’m careful. I’m coming to understand just how much my whiteness enabled me to get here.

In examining the white privilege I have enjoyed and benefited from, I’m reflecting on other aspects of privilege and trying to understand those I don’t agree with politically. Humans are so complex. I wonder if it is even possible to understand extreme political views so in contrast to all I believe. Do we let go and let people feel free to think what they want, make their own decisions about how to vote, let majority rule? Oh wait, there’s the kicker, majority rule and the heritage of white privilege in this country. What if one side cheats? I’m not sure if trying to understand this  gives me hope or just believing that the pendulum always swings back does, but I am trying to find a way to give hope a chance. I think of my two brothers who are fanatically conservative, though to my knowledge, neither are particularly religious. We grew up in the same family, obviously, and we all endured different types of abuse tailored to our personal weaknesses. Did that determine political leanings? My father suffered discrimination because of his Italian heritage and was scarred by that. He was also scarred by abuse in his own family and that trickled down. I understand but don’t accept that. My brothers are not evil people, though they support an evil one. How is that? They are both generous, helpful, caring people. They are devoted fathers. One of my nephews referred to his father as a fascist at an age I was surprised he even knew what the term meant. When I was in Malawi, in an attempt to get me to accept a generous donation he wanted to make to the midwifery ward, my brother said, “If you don’t take it it’s going to the re-elect Trump campaign.” This was a nice gesture on his part, but how weird was that? How do I reconcile sharing DNA with these people? I’m searching myself for a way to continue to love them and let go of trying to get them to see my point. They are very supportive of me. They never berate me personally, though they mock people who talk like me. But I do the same to them. I just consider my comments more right. Right meaning correct. I’ll never change their minds and don’t even try. I gave that up during the Reagan era. The stakes are higher now, though and I don’t know how to reconcile it all.

I’m seeing the pattern of the bluster that is meant to invoke chaos and fear. I’m wondering if it is a calculated distraction technique to invoke the feeding frenzy that ensues, or if it is just pure evil. I only take in small doses, trying to preserve my sanity. I watch my state leaders carry themselves with respect and dignity, exhibiting the kind of leadership that brings my anxiety level down. I see majorities coming out and risking their lives for justice. This also brings my anxiety level down, as I sit in my safe cocoon and silently cheer them on.

This isn’t forever. Every time I listen to our governor I smile and think of the disgrace we had in that office for eight years and the lives lost in this state because of his policies. I’m proud to live in this state now. Proud of the leadership we have and the daily press briefings that inform us in a rational way. I listen and think how smart those people are. I smile thinking they don’t have to reassure anyone they are smart. I just love that about smart people. So this week, in my serendipitous retreat, I thought about my state, thought of where it was a few years ago, and a sense of calm came over me as I envisioned the country turning around too. It’s possible

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Solitary Easter

Sunday Morning ~ Solitary Easter

Sunga khosi, mkanda uoneka. ~ Keep your neck, the pearl will come.

~ Chewa proverb.

April 12, 2020

Hi Everyone,

Well, this is different. Easter was always like Christmas here: kids home, big meals, good china, nice cocktails, and complicated desserts. The Italian Easter bread took three days to make. I always made both a chocolate torte and five layer lemon cake. There were years when the table was set for sixteen. Today I’m trying to decide if I even want to cook a meal. I missed having all the holy week services. I missed the joyful, hopeful spirit of the Easter mass. So far the only ritual I’ve maintained is listening to Jesus Christ Superstar yesterday. That just never gets old.

When I was in Congo, dropped in the middle of one of the remotest spots on earth, there was celebrating on this day. People in the villages were singing. I wondered how they knew it was Easter. They had no calendar. That’s how I know when it is. I look at the calendar when I start planning for the spring and find out when Easter is. So it was eerily beautiful to hear people singing their praise of their risen lord in a land where hope was all but eradicated. Inspiring. Enchanting, really.

I got something in the mail this week from my friend Jack who is a priest in Boston. It came in a business envelope and looked official. I saw the parish name on the return address and panicked. His correspondence is usually in a card-like envelope, the ones that are nice to get because they look like actual mail from someone you know who is not asking for money. The envelope made of sturdy paper in a 3×5 size is such a joy to find in the box. When I saw the official looking envelope I began shaking and could hardly get it open. I stood in the street not worried about traffic; unable to wait until I got to the house to see what it was. I had just seen the death numbers for Boston. I looked again at my name and address. It looked like his handwriting. That calmed me down a little. I thought maybe a request for a donation? But that would be uncharacteristic. My mind swept through the holy weeks we’d spent together as I pulled the green paper out. I looked straight to the bottom first to see his name, let out the breath I’d been holding, then read the message. I stopped at “Do not be afraid!” and read that again. It was a beautiful Easter message from my friend who is still alive. I laid my head against the mailbox and started sobbing. I’m constantly worried about who will be next. I finally walked back up the driveway. 

 I thought of the holy weeks when I was at Boston College and Jack was at St. John’s Seminary. Holy Thursday the washing of the feet, Good Friday fasting and Stations of the Cross walking with incredible beauty of prayerful ritual through the passion and crucifixion. Saturday I’d go home and be with my family preparing, usually helping decorate the church, prepping the meal. Saturday night was the Easter vigil, another favorite of mine as light spread slowly over the church as a flame was passed from person to person. It’s funny, when I think of it now all I can think of is how close together we were. It was a time when I was considering joining a convent. Seriously. I knew so many wonderful, smart nuns who were loving and giving and confident. They seemed content and peaceful and I was longing for that. Jack and I would walk for hours and miles around Boston talking about our futures. We’d find ourselves on Arch St. and bop in for mass, which I think they had every hour every day. Then we’d land back out on the sidewalk and continue our r/amble until finally one of us had to go back to our respective dorms for something or other.  I don’t know how much more screwed up I was than others at that age, but it’s my recollection that I was a mess. A lot. I don’t know how he put up with me. It was always some drama with my family or my classes or friends. He’d listen, support, sometimes call me on my own shit, but in a nice way. I never doubted he loved me for who I was, even when I was an idiot. In the end, the convent came off the list as I wanted a family. Maybe to try to create the one I always wanted, but that’s what I finally decided. And Jack continued on into the priesthood, which, I truly believe is what he was born for. I love seeing him say mass and interact with his parishioners. When he was in Brookline we’d go to a local restaurant/bar and I loved the older Irish guys saying, “Hey Faatha!” rosy cheeked and smiling, shaking hands and clapping backs. It is thinking of him surrounded by the families he’s helped, introducing me to people as I stood by him after mass, seeing the look of love and admiration on their faces that made me terrified for his life. He has saved mine so many times and I know I’m not the only one. 

Happy Easter everyone. Please stay safe. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Lockdown

Sunday Morning ~ Lockdown

Bisani matenda, maliro tidzamva. ~ You can hide the sickness, but we will find out at the burial.

~ Chewa proverb.

April 5, 2020

Hi Everyone,

We just finished our first week in official lockdown which wasn’t a whole lot different from the week before. It sounds more severe though. I’m getting a little nervous about how much I am adjusting to being secluded and homebound. I’m so very fortunate to have a safe place with plenty of food and woodland trails to walk. My kids are all safe and I even heard from my oldest son who called to check on me. That was nice until he started the berating for my failures as a mother. I finally hung up on him. His switch flipped when I told him I’d been going through old photos and slides and reminisced about all the adventures we’d had. But if it weren’t that it would have been something else I said; I started seeing the pattern long ago. It’s painful but it doesn’t blindside me anymore.

I spent three days this week going through all the slides I’d taken since 1976 when I first got a camera. It was cool to take slides back then. I’d ride my bike to Ferrente Dege, the camera shop in Harvard Square, and drop off the film for development. I can’t believe I just remembered the name of that place! Didn’t even have to stop typing. The name just came to me. Wow. This day is starting off really good! Anyway, I’d ride my bike from my apartment in Chestnut Hill, cycle through the streets of Brookline and Allston gliding into Cambridge like I owned the place.  Weaving through traffic and stoplights seemed so easy back then. I was full of energy and confidence navigating the city. No amount of money could get me on a bike there now but I didn’t think a thing about it back then as I locked my bike to a parking meter in front of the camera shop. I had a serious crush on the guy who worked there. He had a ponytail and a deep, soft velvety voice. I was very much in love with his voice. I believed his whole being and personality were as beautiful as that baritone. I love dropping my film off and I loved picking it up. Imagine! Developing slides required human contact back then. I had to wait a week to collect my slides, which was perfect, since that meant I would go to the camera shop once a week. Drop off, pick up, drop off, pick up. Then I had to wait to borrow a projector so I could actually see the slides. Imagine! Such delayed gratification. You took a photo and waited weeks to see how it came out. I was nineteen years old then and since that junior year of college I have taken thousands of slides, a thousand of which I discovered this week, should have been deleted. They’ve taken up a lot of space. For decades I’ve been saying I’m going to go through them all and organize them; weed them out, cull the herd. I envisioned a snowy Sunday afternoon peacefully walking down memory lane before settling in with some loved one for a romantic dinner by the fire. Hah! That fantasy was realized in a more solitary fashion during this raw, cold week punctuated with rain and snow. I hate this time of year. I had no desire to go outside and was looking for an excuse to stay in. (What was I thinking a Sunday afternoon? It took me three eight hour days!) It gave me a reason to not go out, not get dressed, and wallow in my memories.

I was melancholy going thorough the pictorial of my life which was actually a bit of a relief from the constant anxiety. The snow and rain might have had something to do with that mood, but looking back through all these images made me sad. I acknowledged there was a necessary grieving and I’m glad I was alone. I didn’t fight it and I didn’t have to buck up for any social engagement. It was perfect. 

My very first roll of film was spent shooting what I thought were artsy shots in Boston and as I sipped my tea hunched over the light box where the slides were laid out I felt sort of sorry for my young self who thought she might be some prize winning amateur photographer. Maybe that guy with the deep voice would take notice of me. I thought maybe I’d have one slide, particularly excellent in it’s composition, blown up into a print and he would comment on my exceptional talent. I was learning to use my new 35 mm camera that weighed about twenty pounds and made the most wonderful complex click when a shot was taken. I experimented with different F stops not really knowing what that was and uh, it showed. (I wonder if I made people sit through a slide show of these? Probably.) I looked these random images of Harvard Yard, the Hancock building (brand new!), and strangers sitting on park benches in interesting (I thought) poses, and said goodbye and thank you, and dropped them into the trash. I don’t need to look at them again. 

From there I went on to hundreds of nursing school graduation slides where I look all of twelve and I didn’t recognize half the other people. Then the years in Peace Corps that really needed weeding. You’ve seen one bush buck you’ve seen them all. In slides anyway. Then on to young parenthood and the nursery school we produced. Some of those are good. Then the years in Samoa when the camera was dying and most of them were too dark. Into the reject bag those went. New Zealand had a few keepers. Then the surly teenage years and there is some good footage there. I’m looking forward to scanning those. Then everyone in this family went to Paris at one time or another and I swear I tossed forty slides of the Eiffel Tower. My journey took me up to the turn of the century and that’s when life changed. There aren’t any pictures of the two devastating years and after that we went digital. 

I’ve had a good life. Every time I’d see a slide that made me mourn for the happy family that we were (see? Proof in this photo!) I’d remind myself, that I had this. We had a happy family and I was part of it. It has been a good life with a lot of love. And…I used to be cute! I never thought of myself as cute or even attractive. But as I went through these photos I thought I actually looked cute. I thought of looking through old photos of my parents, the black and whites with yellowed edges. Those were the people who got old, not me. I’d marvel at the elegance of them in those photos. I never knew my mother to be so lipsticked and relaxed in real life. The photos were like a silent movie, starring actors I didn’t know. 

This whole bizarre time is making me look at life in a different light. Many people are dying terrible deaths that could have been prevented. Not all, but many. It’s making me look at my own life and taking stock. It’s a gift to have time now to reflect and be quiet because life can change on a dime and it would be a shame to have wasted this.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Warnings

Sunday Morning ~ Warnings

Tinkanena anatsira m’si izi. ~ The river “We told you” goes over into the river called “Now you see.”.

~ Chewa proverb

March 29, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I just watched Bill Gates’s 2015 TED talk describing the danger of a novo virus and predicting the world’s current situation. It’s eerily accurate, almost as if he planned it. He wasn’t the only one. In 2015 we were beginning to prepare. I don’t know if his talk has anything to do with that. We were warned by smart people. People who care about humanity. Was it Nassim Taleb who said, “You don’t put on a seatbelt in the middle of a crash”? When asked what scared him most as president, President Obama said, “A pandemic.” He thought that was scarier than a world war. A pandemic could kill more people and we were less prepared. Starting the Global Health Security unit in 2015, responsible for pandemic preparedness, was a way to address the possibility (inevitability?). The unit was disbanded in 2018 by the current administration. What dystopia. I thought we were in crisis before this virus appeared on the stage; this is straight out of a medical nightmare. 

In women’s health we deal with problems or deviations from normal on a regular basis. This includes communicable disease. For instance, we screen every pregnant woman for immunity to Rubella, a virus that can cause severe birth defects. There is a very effective vaccine for this virus, and if she is non immune, pregnant women get immunized right after delivery because that’s a time when we know she is NOT pregnant. It’s standard of care. There is no controversy about this. We know what the Rubella virus does to a fetus. We can prevent it. We know what to do. When there is a postpartum hemorrhage, we have steps we take to address the problem; it’s ingrained in our brains and we automatically flip into crisis mode and follow the learned responses. But now, for coronavirus, we don’t know what to do or how to keep women safest. This is so incredibly unnerving. I believe one day there will be a vaccine to prevent the disease caused by coronavirus but until then it is terrifying for a medical professional to not know what to do. The only thing we can say for sure is to stay home and keep your distance. Information is coming at us daily, hourly, but nothing consistent. There is no clarity and there won’t be for some time, so when people seek medical advice, they get vague answers and that is frustrating and frightening. We can recommend what we know won’t hurt. Stay home. Keep your distance. But what about women about to deliver a baby? 

I’ve been meeting with midwives in the state once a week to share information, frustration, and support. Recommendations are inconsistent from institution to institution and none of us know which is best. There is a shocking lack of supplies and protective equipment. This is not reassuring. Is it safer for women to deliver at home or risk being exposed in the hospital? We don’t have those answers. Home birth is safe if we have a good back-up plan: good transportation to the hospital if needed, a low risk pregnancy, and reassurance that the midwife coming to help isn’t going to infect the family with a deadly disease, or vice versa. We just don’t know which is safer right now. Do no harm, weigh risks and benefits, consider all options. What if we are doing harm with all good intentions? That’s the scary thing. 

Yesterday I caught my breath when I read the news that some states can’t receive the equipment they need without being extorted. Holy hell. Every time I think this can’t get worse. 

My grandchildren have gone back home and though I miss them, it’s best for them to be together as a family. I’ve got plenty of home projects to work on, and I’m chipping away at those. I’m sewing face masks, as bizarre as the necessity for that cottage industry seems. I’m assessing where my skills will be best utilized. Go to NYC? Stay and wait for the shit to hit the fan here? Probably more sensible to stay as I’d be able to come home and be isolated. This useless feeling is wearing me down. 

I feel better when my feet land on spongy earth covered with pine needles. I can feel the ground melting every day. I spend part of each day in the woods and come home feeling a little less anxious. Crocuses are popping up and I’m trying to focus on something positive every day. Laughing feels good and I appreciate the creativity shared by isolated bored funny people. I think about silver linings: This might finally jolt our health care system into something more just. Might even make for a more just economy when it eventually rebounds. Could make for significant environmental changes… if we heed the warnings. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Breathing

Sunday Morning ~ Breathing

Kwa aja agona kunsi ku mwala, mdi aona mwala kupuma. ~ Only those who sleep under the rock are able to see the rock breathing.

~ Chewa proverb

March 22, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I’ve had a hard time this week figuring out what I am most anxious about. It’s not dying of this virus, though, maybe that is buried somewhere in my psyche.  My kids dying? Yeah, probably worried about that.

I thought it might be having the election canceled, but then researched that and learned that without an election the orange man would be out of office for sure on inauguration day. That was a relief. Whether he actually leaves or not is an anxiety for another day. 

Running out of food? I reassured myself that I’ve got enough for a few months at least, though variety wouldn’t exist. And soon I will be picking spring greens and can subsist on those for awhile. Isn’t this the fantasy I’ve harbored for my whole life? Living off the land?

Our local health care system getting overwhelmed? Not enough respirators? Yes, for sure I’m worried about that. I will certainly start working again but am not sure in what capacity. That scenario is evolving. It might be doing home births as more women are afraid to go to the hospital. 

Feeling useless? Yes, that does make me anxious. 

When I agreed to take the grandkids here for two weeks (the projected time for school to be canceled), I thought it would be just that, two weeks. That would give their parents time to get set up for working at home and them a place with room to run while that was happening. Then things changed by the hour. It wasn’t going to be the romantic February vacation we’d just spent: visiting the library, dropping in on friends, nights out at the movies. By the time I’d gotten back here with them last Sunday it was clear we’d be completely isolated and my anxiety mounted. What if I got sick?

My house is familiar to them but they do not want to be alone. Ever. When the sun goes down, they are pretty much attached to me. Yea, so sleeping, or more accurately, not sleeping, was a challenge the first few days. Amelia, who barely moves all night is fine in my bed with me. She reads her book, I read mine. When she’s sleepy enough she rolls over and falls asleep. James, on the other hand, is a nightmare to sleep (or not sleep) with. He flops all over the place, thrusts his elbows into my nose, bangs his head into mine so his long hair is all over my face, and rolls around like he’s possessed. The first night, as I clung to the side of the bed trying not to fall out, I started worrying about what I’d gotten myself into. I could not do two weeks of this. (What if it’s months?) I’d set up a separate bed for James but even though it was next to mine he was scared to be separated. 

I thought of kids locked in cages after being torn from their parents. I can’t bear the thought. I have to shake my head to get rid of it.

I realize I’ve been anxious for over three years.

It took a few nights but we adjusted and James got more comfortable in his own bed. He didn’t like it but he stopped fighting it. I slept better. That brought my anxiety back down to above-normal levels. I started thinking of new normals. We might not like it but we’ll stop fighting it.

I wonder if my mother felt like this during the polio epidemic? I remember standing in line outside our church waiting for our turn to receive the vaccine. I wondered how they notified people to be there? Newspaper? Loudspeaker? Was my mother anxious, worried the hospital would not have enough iron lungs?

Deep breaths are good for anxiety. I’m grateful for each one I take.

Love to all,

Linda