Sorry, Merry Christmas people, I’ve decided to make the change to saying Happy Holidays.
Let me explain.
Yes, I love Christmas and believe that it is actually the birthday of Jesus Christ—to me, it is a holy day. One of many holy days that are celebrated during the winter months: Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and so on. Each day is legitimate to those who celebrate it.
So I think it behooves me as a Christian to honor other traditions, to acknowledge that my holy day isn’t the only one.
I also believe that Christmas has been co-opted by merchandisers and other profiteers. That bothers me, because I think it has replaced the sharing of Christmas with wholesale consumerism and greed.
Now, I do draw the line at calling Christmas Trees Holiday Trees or Christmas cookies Holiday cookies and so on. We wouldn’t tolerate calling a Hanukah Menorah a Holiday Menorah, would we? And I must admit that parodies of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” leave me cold. Using Christmas Carol melodies as the basis for songs to encourage gift giving (which I heard on a Target ad) offends me. Recordings by name artists of Christmas Carols where they torture the beautiful melodies and words are offensive because they use songs that are actually hymns to sell records. I am sure that many of those melodies are public domain which means that the artist pays no royalties to sing them—once again using Christmas to make money.
So, if you are a Christmas person and I know it, I will wish you a Merry Christmas. But I think the generic Happy Holidays is much more suitable for those I encounter in the business of living—clerks in stores, servers in restaurants, personnel in offices. That way, I know I am wishing them well for whatever holiday they celebrate.
Merry Christmas to all of you! Enjoy your holidays!
“Take out the papers and the trash!”
If you are of a certain age, you’ll remember these words from a popular song in the 50’s.
This has become my new anthem. Our trash goes out every week on Monday night, and I consistently forget to do this annoying, but necessary task.
This is what happens: I clean up the kitchen, maybe do some laundry, walk the dog, read a little, play a few word games on the I Pad, check emails, and then work on my writing.
Finally, when the clock reads way too late, I realize that I better go to bed or I won’t be able to function in the morning. So, I close up the house and tell Sparkle ( my dog) that it’s time to go “night –night” ( yes, I talk baby talk to her).
And then, like a thunderbolt in a cartoon, I remember that ( oh God!) I forgot to take out the trash. The next twenty minutes are spent scurrying around the house collecting trash, making sure the refrigerator is cleaned out, wrestling the trash can and the recycling box out to the curb. All the while I am doing this, I sing the refrain from that 50’s hit song to myself.
Then the next morning, I drag the huge trash can ( which is almost as tall as I am) and the recycling box back into the garage.
Every week I resolve to do this onerous task earlier in the evening. When my husband was still alive, he would sometimes not take the recycling out or not empty the waste basket in the den which contains only paper. I would accuse him of being selective in removing the trash. When I was a kid, I thought that taking the trash out was gender identified—it was a boy’s job, not a girl’s job. If I was called upon to it, I would resent having to do something that my childish mind-set dictated that girls’ shouldn’t have to do.
So, now I’m on my own. Obviously I don’t want to live in a house with trash—no matter how late it is when I remember it. So, I do it—like everyone else.
Maybe I’ll remember this task at an earlier time some week. Maybe it will become a routine. And then I can adopt a new anthem.
My novel, Loving Christy is available right now on Amazon.com., Barnes and Noble, and available for Kindle. If you would like a signed copy, you can email me at email@example.com.
I am a widow now that my husband passed away. I don’t like the word widow. It conjures up images of old ladies in rolled black stockings shrouded in “widow’s weeds”—black clothes hanging off their backs. Women who no longer exist, who are mere shadows of who they used to be. Women, who unlike the rest of us, know that their best days have ended.
I don’t feel that way.
Yes, I grieve. For how much Dan loved me. For my husband’s company. For his humor. For his very presence. For the joy he took in our daughter. For how much he loved his dog. I even grieve for how much he could annoy me.
It is very hard to get used to living in my house—not our house, driving my car—not our car, talking about my daughter—not our daughter. The very language of being alone takes getting used to.
I know that I present a brave face to the world. For the most part, my emotions seem under control. At times, I am sure that I seem almost clinical. I tell people that he died because there was no other option; that his health had deteriorated to such a degree that it was the only thing that could happen. His last few months were so drawn out that Dan’s life had become a living death. There was little to hope for—certainly not recovery.
When I look in the mirror, I see an intense sadness in my eyes. My days are spent listlessly doing things I have to do—taking care of all the errands that accompany a death. And there are many: the lawyer, Social Security, the bank, the retirement system, credit card companies, the DMV. Everyone needs something from me and I have no energy to do any of it.
Sometimes I would like to lie in bed, or sit in a chair and sleep until it feels better—whenever that will be.
I have to reinvent myself. Find ways to fill in the lonely evenings. Find friends to have dinner with—because the prospect of eating my evening meal alone is too painful. Come to terms with the fact that certain of my couples’ friends will no longer see me as “fitting in.”
My family and friends tell me that I am “strong.” I can show this so-called “brave” face to the world—while inside I’m an emotional mess.
Sometimes I’d like to completely fall apart. Am I foolish to soldier on? I don’t know.
All I do know is that I feel like an enormous scoop of my soul is missing. Someone asked me recently how I was doing. I told her that it felt like I had lost my arm. She nodded and said, “Oh.” What else could she say? What else could I say?
I hope that, in time, the rawness of this pain will be dulled and I can enjoy the new life that has been thrust upon me.
People surround me. Perched on uncomfortable folding chairs, we are jammed into a small space squeezed between the shelves in a book store.
Voices make a hub-bub, and I look around to see the other fledgling writers. Some are young. But most are older, like me. A lifetime of experience lines our faces.
Some people sport long shapeless tee shirts and shorts several sizes too big to define a body underneath. Others wear long skirts and tie dyed shirts. I even see someone wearing a fringed vest. Gray hair is pulled carelessly into unruly pony tails which are held in place by leather barrettes. And few people have long braids that trail down backs. A woman climbs over me to find a chair. Her hair is too long and uncombed and she is wearing a gypsy skirt.
Aging hippies, I think.
The ladies with money sit nearby, their perfectly coiffed hair a sharp contrast.
What unites this strange band of fellows is one shared belief: that the words we write should be read. No, our words must be read!
I wait for the speaker, a successful author, to begin to fill me with her wisdom. Like a school girl with a homework assignment, I begin to page through her book, a how–to for writers.
She fiddles with the projector, exasperated because it won’t do what she wants it to do.
Finally a man arrives, his baseball cap firmly placed on his head, with a bulky bundle of keys on his hip. He adjusts the projector and it throws pictures of rich and beautiful authors on the screen.
My desire is to be a member of their club.
I want to rise above the rabble around me, the young and the old, the experienced and the apprentice and write something that is compelling and uniquely mine—a real book, with a glossy cover placed prominently on a bookstore shelf.
I’ve seen web sites featuring books with covers designed to entice a reader to open the pages of the book. The authors of these books were once hopefuls like me.
I worry that no one will get to know the characters that have lived in my imagination for so long. I want someone other than me to care about them with all their human frailties and strengths.
I am humbled to realize that even if my work sees the light of day, nothing will change. Turmoil and war and discord will still reign—and people will still pray for peace.
My reverie is broken when the author starts to talk about the business of publishing, warning us of the overwhelming amount of work involved, of the sacrifices we will have to make. And of the almost non-existent chance we have. She causes me to think about my choice.
And then I go home, boot up my computer and begin to work my current novel. Because every time I write the best sentence I can, a thrill runs through me.
And so, I continue to write.
I was brought up on rock and roll—Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and later, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. It was the music I choose as the background throughout my life from my pre-teens and into my adulthood.
Lately, thanks to Sirius radio, I’ve discovered the Forties radio station. And now I’m head-over-heels in love with it.
I’m sure some of the songs are etched in my memory from when I was very young. They are the songs my Mom loved and sang along with on the radio in her lovely alto voice. Mom listened to the crooners: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, the Andrews Sisters, and the Dorsey Brothers. She even gave me a Sinatra LP as birthday gift when I was in my twenties.
There’s something about great songs with words that make sense sung by people with melodious voices. I love the witty lyrics in many of the songs, too. And it’s really cool to hear legendary singers like Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, or Marlene Dietrich sing their hits. I am even getting to be pretty good at imitating Dietrich’s accent and voice quality—she had a smoky, “whiskey” voice—I’m sure for the times, it was quite exotic.
When I listen to this music, I am transported to a simpler time and place. I can imagine my Mom, a beautiful young woman, swooning over these artists and romantically dancing with a special someone to it. The music and lyrics are timeless, and lose nothing in the interpretation by modern artists like Diana Krall, Paul McCartney, and even Rod Stewart who have recorded them.
This music soothes me, and it’s fun to sing along with Bing Crosby as he sings “Mairzy Doats”—one of the many novelty songs of that era. Forties music is different from listening to “smooth jazz” or show music. The songs need no context to make sense—they’re about love lost and found and relationships and about life. It’s no surprise that younger artists like Michael Buble’ and Harry Connick Jr. love this music and have made careers promoting it.
I love this music, too. And when I feel that I need an escape from the turmoil that surrounds me, I reach for the tiny Sirius remote and tune in the Forties radio station and let the iconic music whisk me away.
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Tennessee Williams, American playwright
Kindness. Being kind. Qualities that I value in other people.
Maybe I’m unusually lucky, but I have many kind and understanding people in my life: husband, daughter and daughter-in –law, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews. I have a loving family and many caring friends. I know that not everyone can claim that—in fact I have firsthand experience with a less-than-kind sister-in-law. And her behavior toward me frequently brought me to tears and made me question myself. But thankfully, she was an exception.
So when my husband and I began his battle for survival against the monster called cancer five years ago, we were sustained and lifted up by many kind acts by a myriad of friends and family. After several years of relatively good health, my husband faces another cancer battle—one that is a Pyrrhic victory at best. Yes, the cancer is gone—he survived the surgery, but cancer has devastated his body to such an extent, that his very survival is in question.
For the last five months, we have tried to bring him back to health. The results are uncertain. He may survive, but there is a question of how long and what kind of a life he will have.
As part of that battle, he has spent the last month in either a hospital or Hospice. And that’s when I, too, depended on the kindness of strangers.
When he was in the hospital, I lived away from home, alone in a hotel near the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
The hotel staff greeted me by name every day. The waitress and restaurant manger remembered that I like iced tea. They asked how my husband was and promised to pray for him. The restaurant manager, Sylvia, chatted with me every morning, offering her moral support. The front desk staff treated me to a lovely cheese and fruit plate one afternoon which was delivered to my up-graded room.
They became my support system and their many kindnesses helped to sustain me every day that I stayed there.
The doctors, nurses and nurses’ aides at the hospital comforted and informed both my husband and me at our bleakest moments. They were gentle and nurturing in their care of my husband. The social worker was an unending source of information and support.
Family members of other patients reached out to me when I sat in a darkened room weeping. One patient hugged me—her body as frail as my husband’s, her thinning hair covered with a bandana. Her sister looked for me every day and we chatted about the burdens we were both carrying. The hospital chaplain saw me and opened the door to allow me to talk about my fears.
When Dan was moved to Hospice House, we were surrounded by the love and nurturing of more strangers, the nurses and staff of Hospice House, who soon became our support system. Their compassionate care and gentle support will never be forgotten.
The presence of these strangers helped me and my husband cope with some of the darkest moments of our lives.
They were all perfect strangers in every sense of the word.
I’ve always loved staying at hotels—especially more upscale ones like the hotels we vacationed at when our daughter was little. Our favorite vacation place was Disney World and we made a point of choosing one of their hotels because they were so wonderfully decorated. As you may know, Disney specializes in meticulously replicating furnishing, staff costuming and décor to carry out a theme. The effect can be quite dazzling.
Now, I prefer a hotel that caters to business travelers—they are generally understated and quieter. And because they aren’t trying to capture the family market, there rarely are noisy neon game rooms, over-priced cartoon character breakfasts or children’s program—all of which pleases me.
My hotel of choice is Hilton Garden Inn—a business hotel that I frequent when we travel to Tampa for my husband’s cancer treatment. They give us a discounted price and a safe, secure place to stay—even if I am alone in the room.
There are many hotels in the area—and so is Bush Gardens—a family vacation destination. So it would be possible to stay in a nearby hotel and be over-run by hyper-excited children—or worse, the school field trip! I have experienced both of these unhappy phenomena is other hotels in the area. Imagine my delight when I discovered the lovely Hilton Garden Inn!
Except a strange thing happened last weekend. Starting on Friday morning the place began to fill up with—you guessed it—families! Now, I like children and cherish my family. However, there is something about the vacation mentality that makes some parents forget that their children are much more delightful when they are being watched. I worried that my adult, business-oriented haven was becoming (gulp) a family hotel….What could I do?
Well, thankfully, the surge ended just as quickly as it began. By Monday, the business suits arrived once again and the families went home with sun burn and souvenirs. And, I hope, happy memories of a fun family vacation.
The weekend is approaching and I will be leaving—just in time. I saw the first group of families arrive today. Everyone was excitedly looking over the Bush Gardens maps and making plans for the next day.
Thankfully, Monday is coming. Soon.
Hope is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all
By Emily Dickenson
Be positive. You have to think positive. That advice is offered by well-meaning friends when someone faces a life-threatening illness or tragic situation. The “positive person” is held up as an ideal when someone is battling cancer. He or she is advised to be positive, think positive, and to speak in positive terms. What does that actually mean? A person facing possible death or at the very least a brutal and exhausting treatment plan, should only talk about how they plan to beat “this thing?” Why? So the people around them don’t have to offer comfort or solace when it’s needed? So the people around then don’t have to face their own mortality?
That advice is bogus. It robs people of their ability to share their fears and grief and denies the validity of their feelings. It forces the victim into the role of comforter and supporter.
We are in a battle for survival right now. My husband of almost 40 years has been diagnosed for the second time in 5 years with cancer. He is struggling to recover from surgery and to face his “new normal” which includes 24 hour a day oxygen therapy, debilitated physical condition and yes, an uncertain survival.
The only way I see us making it—surviving—is to cling to hope. Hope that he will eventually heal, hope that the surgery was ultimately a “cure” (if that’s even possible), and hope that the cancer will not reappear.
Hope sustains me when I wake in the morning and think about the rest of our day—filled with the trials that this disease has brought into our lives.
Without hope, all is lost.
It’s funny about the word funny. We use it in so many non-humorous ways that it almost has lost its meaning.
If something is funny, shouldn’t we laugh or at least giggle at it?
For instance, funny can be used to mean strange or curious. “Isn’t it funny to see a tight rope walker above the alligator pit at the zoo?”
It can also express disappointment, “Funny, I wasn’t invited to my best friend’s wedding to George Clooney.”
Funny can indicate something that annoys us. Example: “I don’t think it’s funny when you mash your food on the table, honey.”
It can mean strange. ”That outfit sure is funny. Who would wear a red plaid shirt and purple striped pants to his wedding?”
And it even can be used to insult someone’s looks. “She has the funniest nose.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we started to use the word funny only when something made us at least chuckle, or roll around on the floor laughing like a hyena? But think of the difficulties in expressing some of the aforementioned observations and opinions.
“For God’s sake, does that tight rope walker have mush for brains?” seems somehow harsher.
Or, in the case of the missed invitation mentioned above: “What a louse you were for not inviting me to your wedding to George Clooney. What, are you afraid of a little competition? Better watch your back,” seems hostile and unfriendly.
And I would think that, “Honey, if you mash your food on the table again, I’ll break both of your arms,” could really damage a child’s psyche.
Communicating disdain for another person’s clothing choices would be less than tactful. “Who dressed you—a blind monkey? You’re wearing plaids and stripes— again! Don’t sit anywhere near me and whatever you do, don’t talk to me.”
And of course, insulting would take on an even nastier tone: “If I was born with a honker like that, I would have demanded plastic surgery as soon as I could talk!”
Isn’t it strange that while the idea of precise language is appealing, the reality is often less than desirable. Life is funny that way.