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In March of 2012 I wrote about connecting with people. How by some mysterious force, we are drawn to someone and find a connection. I’ve had a couple of new experiences in this past year, in spite of my limited movements within the outside world.

An old business associate of nearly 40 years, turned friend, emailed me about an alumnus of her college. Did I want to meet her? She had recently moved to my town, shared my religion and knew no one here. She wanted to get involved in her new community and my friend thought we would hit it off. I trust this friend; she knows me well. So of course I said yes. Explaining to this stranger my limited outings, unpredictable medical limitations and inability to eat like a normal person, I suggested lunch at my house. Conversation came easily and we discovered some additional mutual friends and interests. We share political views so there was much fodder for conversation and potential action. The relationship quickly turned into a familiar, comfortable friendship, one I am so grateful for.

On another occasion, the search for someone to do alterations led me to a woman from a neighboring town. She is the mother of a lady in my town, who I know only through the Facebook page our town’s ladies belong to. She was kind enough to come to my house so I could try on the clothes. There was something special about her and she felt the same. She too joined me for lunch soon after and I have been to her home to drop off or pick up more things she has sewed for me. We are on a “hug and kiss greeting” basis and express an affinity for one another like we’ve been friends for so long.

My therapist tells me I am blessed with the ability to make friends easily. I would have to agree. But I attribute it to my father and his mother who also had many friends due to their ability to talk to anyone about something they could find in common.

My life is so enriched by this gift. Some people’s involvement in my life have endured decades and many challenges; some have come and gone in short order. I’ve relished each friendship for its uniqueness and rich dimension they have brought to my life.

I’m a lucky woman.

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Warning: Some people may be offended by what seems like a flippant attitude about grave matters but I can assure you I have a healthy, realistic grip on reality.

I was a 32 year old widow. I had just lost my husband to cancer. He was 36 years old. That’s pretty tragic. It’s nothing to laugh at, for sure. So why were my best friend and I laughing hysterically? We got together for one of our breakfast meetings as we planned and plotted to perhaps open a business or something like that. We got to talking about men (don’t female gatherings always lead to that?). We were talking about whether we had left most of the men we had relationships with, or had they left us. I said I instinctively knew if they were about to leave, so I would leave first. So no, no men had left me. “Unless you count Ray (my deceased husband), but does that count?”

We erupted into such shrieks of laughter, everyone in the restaurant turned around to see what was so funny. All they saw was two crazy women with tears running down their cheeks. We would finally gain control, look at each other and erupt again into wails of hysteria.

Granted, you can’t say these kinds of things to just anyone. Some would have you committed for such an “inappropriate” reaction to such a sad thing. But, is it inappropriate?

Humor is a very powerful coping mechanism. I often say if I didn’t have a sense of humor (however macabre at times) I wouldn’t even be alive today. I’ve had more challenges in one life than a whole tribe usually has combined (see last post). So, when a little crack opens up in the dark cloud of any situation, I crack funny, “inappropriate jokes” or laugh at those of others. But never at the expense of someone else.

Most recently, my husband and I were waiting in the surgeon’s exam room, waiting to discuss plans for removing my reproductive parts. We started talking about what comes after that, which is going to be a prophylactic mastectomy with reconstruction. My husband, in typical fashion, started his 20 question routine. “How do they do….? Are they going to do ……?” Of course, I didn’t know anything yet, since THAT appointment is next Monday. He asked me how they remove breast tissue. I told him that all I know is that there are several techniques. The one used for me will depend on my unique situation, the surgeon, and maybe some of my preferences, if I am lucky to have more than one option. He asked (stop here if you are squeamish or don’t like crude humor), “If they have to remove the nipples, do you just not have them anymore?” I explained that from what I have read, they use tattoos to recreate a natural appearance. I said, “So instead of ‘tit for tat,’ it will be ‘tats for tits!” We erupted into laughter, coming in waves, settling down, then roaring all over again when we looked at each other. In such a quiet environment, I’m thinking that the folks outside in the waiting room were wondering what the hell was going on in there.

We composed ourselves by the time the doctor and entourage came in. They were polite enough not to inquire about our outburst. So we conducted business, made arrangements and went home.

Later, while reading a book about reconstruction, I pondered out loud whether I wanted to look the same or take this opportunity to get the perky breasts I never had. My husband asked if he had any say and was there a store or a catalog from which to make a selection. Another round of laughter ensued.

Laughter takes the edge off, opens up lines of communication that may be difficult, brings people together and defuses tension. Can you think of any other free, non-toxic substance that can do all that?

So go ahead and make those “sick” jokes, or at least make some kind of jokes to help you see a potential bright side when all seems dark. If people think ill of you for it, fuck ’em. They aren’t walking in your shoes, and if ever they have to, they won’t have the same support and outcomes as you will.

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I suppose you will be remembered in history books if you founded a country, but what about the founders of smaller things? Perhaps significant on a local level, or important to a cause. When that cause gets a life of its own, the founder is often dismissed as far as having any role in its being.
To be fair, some entities pay some sort of homage to the founder(s) in their history, but most do not.
This line of thought was precipitated by a wonderful conversation with one of my patients. At age 83, he has a sharp mind. We connected on some geographic and ethnic commonalities. The conversation led to Israel and he told me a story about his relative named Ra’Anan (not sure of the spelling), who had gone from NYC with a band of others early in the 20th century, to a town now known as Ra’Anana. He had become their Mayor, hence the name of the city honoring him.
I was fascinated by this as I know two families who live there. So, back at home, I tried to research the history of this town, to no avail. There was some reference to a group from NYC going there, but no one by a name similar to the town’s name appeared in any of the articles. I believed this man’s story. Thus, the founder had been forgotten.
I experienced a similar situation. When I lost a job I hated anyway, I turned to my passion – art – and decided to make a go of it. Practicing the craft was only a part of my goal. I wanted to create a community of artists of all kinds; visual and performing, to feed each other’s creativity, and bring us a sense of belonging. I rallied some people I thought would be interested in helping me. I requested the library’s community room, placed a tiny article in the paper. And they came! The need was evident!
From this group, a board was formed and we set out to deliver a community of artists in my own town. Life was good. When we were offered a chance to hire, at a very heavily subsidized rate, a consultant to help us set a course, make a plan and work out some kinks, the group began to splinter. Just a tiny bit at first, but then a huge, gaping hole opened up. Suddenly, my allies were my foes. They didn’t share my vision, which until then was working. When I started to enlarge the dream, the rebels came out.
Now power was being usurped and when I called them on it, they denied it. To shorten a long, painful story, I left the group behind. My only pleasure is that the organization continues. Sadly for me, the work I wanted so much to do is now happening – but I am not part of the community I brought to fruition.
So, that brings me back to the forgotten founder. I have moved on and do my “art thing” with other, more welcoming people. Some of the original cast of characters and I remain friends. The splintered faction is still splintered. I’m OK with it all. Except for one thing. Wouldn’t it be nice to be acknowledged as the person who brought together this community of artists? Yes, it would be.

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Like many creative pursuits, production is part inspiration and part discipline. My problem is the latter. I get going on my new project, and when something new tantalizes me, I’m off in another direction. It’s not that I don’t like my first (second and third) projects. It’s just that I am easily distracted.
And to add another barrier to producing regular blog entries, I am studying French and taking a writing class, which focuses me on writing at least one story a week.
So that’s a good thing, right? Yes and no. I am producing, but not for my audience, who is following any one of my blogs, not my storytelling. So, I owe you a big, fat apology.
If you will stay with me, I hope you will at least get something out of those blogs, when I publish them. Hey, here’s another idea? While I am taking this class, would anyone be interested in reading/critiquing the stories I am writing? More eyes on them, with constructive feedback would be most welcome.
Let me know! I thank you in advance.

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I work in a hospital as a Registered Dietetic Technician. I screen patients for nutritional risk, provide education for  theraputic diets and food/drug interactions. But that isn’t the greatest part of the job. The most rewarding times are those when a deep connection is made with a patient or family member. I’ve tried to analyze how or why it happens when it does, and concluded that it isn’t so simple.

Human connection is obviously found in lifelong friendships. But it is those fleeting, temporary connections that intrigue me.

A patient with Parkinson’s disease struggled to communicate with me. His tremors were so bad, speech was excruciatingly difficult. Time slowed as I stayed with him, watching him painfully, frustratingly, trying to say something. Word by word, I was able to discern that he was very intelligent, educated, lucid. And that he wanted to die.

When I asked if he wanted to speak with a member of the clergy or a counselor, he struggled to say, “I’d like to speak with you.”  There is a fine line professionally, between doing the job I am employed to do, and providing patient care, in the full sense. And I am drawn to those who need to talk about their feelings about their wish to die when they are suffering, and their families can’t hear them.

So I pulled up a chair, took his hand in mine and listened as he shared his wish to end his suffering with a terrible disease that has trapped his agile mind in a crippled body. I returned to visit him a number of times, even though he was not on my daily list of patients. I listened to his younger wife, who seemed still to believe he should be fighting for his life.

I heard his suffering. I could do nothing to ease it, but listen.

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I know from experience (my own included) that if you were to judge someone’s state of happiness by their FB posts, you would often get a very distorted sense of reality.

We are told to “put our best foot forward,” “soldier on,” “keep a stiff upper lip,” “practice gratitude,” etc., etc. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it doesn’t allow us the true freedom to share our challenges, sadness, anxiety, etc. In spite of all the public discourse on depression, we are still not good as a society, in recognizing or treating it. Not everyone presents with the same symptoms – in fact, many cover it with a mask of cheeriness. Drugs are widely available to treat it – it’s fast and cheap – as opposed to talking about and resolving issues that need to be processed.  But sometimes things need to be faced head on, not temporarily blunted.

As is evidenced by all the shootings and general chaos, especially among our young and veterans, we are not, as a society, attending to mental health care needs. Unattended, things get worse. More turmoil creates more societal anxiety and a downward spiral of the individual.

Some have suggested that global meditation and/or yoga practice would reduce stress, creating a calm over the earth. It’s an interesting idea. It would cost less than other modes of treatment and have fewer side effects than medication. It would address the shortage of skilled mental health practitioners as it could treat groups, not just individuals. It could ultimate lower healthcare costs and reduce violence.

But I digress. The point of this article is to ask that  you remain vigilant to the signs of stress that may cause those you love to break. If they are behaving differently than usual, there is probably a reason. Offer a hand – even if it is just to lead them to get the help they need.

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I’m only 59. Yes, a dinosaur to my kids perhaps, but not technologically. Many of my peers certainly are computer savvy and carry smart phones (and know how to use them), but a surprising number are adamantly denying the need for technology. “I got along all these years with a pen and paper and a phone,” they say. I try to explain why it is important to their relationships with their children and grandchildren. They huff and puff and tell me why kids have no respect these days! I invoke Kahlil’s Gibran’s “The Prophet’s” chapter “On Children,” but they won’t listen. (It is printed below. A beautiful poem from one of the most amazing books ever written.) But I digress.

Some of the obvious reasons in the relationship domain are simply related to how things are done nowadays. Don’t have texting? You may never get that last minute notice that someone is running late. You’ll be standing out in the cold waiting and wondering if they forgot your appointment. Have a computer but you check email only once a week? You’re missing invitations to join people who do use it. Don’t have a smart phone? When you break down, you’re going to have to figure out where you so you can tell AAA. Have no cell phone at all? Good luck finding a pay phone to even call AAA!

I consider my smartphone, the most powerful computer in a tiny box, my auxiliary brain. It remembers far more than I ever could, and why should I tax my brain when I can look it up. What’s “it” you ask? Anything, everything, and more. Hell, I don’t even have to type in my question. I just ask Siri to find things for me, dial the phone, give me directions, find the nearest place to eat, gas station, or bathroom. I ask her to play a song, make an appointment, write me a reminder note, take a photo, post to Facebook, send a text or email. She looks up any address or phone number. Best of all, if I lose my phone, everything I put on there is backed up on my computer and my iPad. Making my plans, writing a letter, reading a book? I can put down my phone in the living room and resume reading/typing in the bedroom, on a different device. It knows where I left off.

If I’m in the store and see something we need and want to show it to my husband for his opinion? Bam! Take photo, text to husband, he replies and I buy it or don’t. Time lapsed – 3 minutes. Time saved returning to the store later; priceless!

And if you have grandchildren, you’d better get with it. If you ever want to see pictures of them or communicate with them when they get old enough to use mom’s iPad (at about one and a half years old) you better have some technological device on which to receive it.

I may sound like a commercial for Apple, and maybe it is, but I can’t deny that life is so much easier with an auxiliary brain in my pocket.

On Children
 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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