Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Destruction of Hate

People who judge without a measure of mercy
All the victims who will never learn
Even the lost ones, you can only give up on
Even the ones who make you burn

Thank your stars you’re not that way
Turn your back and walk away

Don’t even pause and ask them why
Turn around and say goodbye…

The ones who’ve done you wrong
The ones who pretended to be so strong
The grudges you’ve held for so long
It’s not worth singing that same sad song

- Wish Them Well, Rush

Have you ever seen a pack of domestic dogs react to a fight?  Unfortunately I have because eight dogs constitutes a pack and there would be the occasional temper flare up between two of them that could be no more than a snap and a growl if it was contained to just the dogs originally involved or something way more serious if the whole group was around.  Because if the other dogs could rush to the fray then it had the potential to become frenzied and chaotic.  They wouldn't know what they were fighting about necessarily, they were just in it for the blood lust because somewhere inside of them is a wolf pack mentality that has gotten confused and muddled over centuries of domestication.  So, while a wolf may fight to maintain order and control in order to survive, that is all handled now by the human caretakers and all they are left with is the deep seeded instinct to join in the fight for some long lost reason.   When I would break them apart, you could almost see it in their faces:  sort of a lost glazed over look like they couldn't quite figure out what just happened.  Like they had been hypnotized.  Sometimes one or the other of them would be shaking, the sheer force of the violence would be so shocking to them.  I've thought about that a lot as I've followed the case unfolding against the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, young Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who seemed like a once likable kid who is now a murderer.  I've wondered if he isn't like my pack of dogs, leaping into a fray that he didn't really understand.  Of course, I realize that as a matter of law, it's secondary to understand why he did what he did.  The why of it matters so that we, as a society, can recognize other seemingly likable young men or women who one day may unleash the hate locked in their hearts and stop them before they do anything with that hate.  But that's a very steep and slippery slope, particularly in a country predicated on personal freedom.  

Because, here's the thing, lots of us hate and we're not a national security threat.  So how do you tell who truly is?  As a matter of fact, a lot of people whose hearts are just as black as that boy and his brother think of themselves as Patriots.  Hate, prejudice and judgment are funny things, they are easy to acquire and seemingly free, but there is a cost to them I have found that is surprising because it is a personal one.  It consumes you like a fire and extinguishes other, better things.  But its flames do reach out and burn others before they devour the individual, so it is wholly destructive as well as self destructive and you wonder why people indulge themselves in it, what they seek from it, and what they think it gives them.  Somehow it made its way into our array of human emotions, so you assume that at some point in the evolution of man it served a purpose, like a dog's instinct to fight.  But, what purpose does it serve now and why do we cling to it?

I had a very personal taste of hatred over the weekend.  Or rather I should say my daughter did, but it reverberated through us all.  She received a message randomly from Kelsey's last boyfriend.  The one who was with her when she died.  His anger, after all this time, is white hot and directed straight at us.  We've had a lot of questions about that night, and I've had a theory that, in some ways, he affirmed, but it was clear that he has justified it in his mind and learned to live with it by convincing himself we were the reason that she died, and that we had failed and abandoned her.  To see Marissa so devastated by his words, seemingly coming out of no where, was heartbreaking.  It made me almost hate him as much as he professes to hate us.  And I've worked pretty long and hard not to feel that way toward him.  The reason being not for his sake, but for my own.  I would never move past Kelsey's death if I didn't.  And, make no mistake, it's not her death I want to mourn, it's the loss of her life.  There is a difference.  I don't care what happens to him, really.  I used to wish him dead, I won't lie.  I've always been afraid that he was such a destructive force that he wasn't done destroying people, and maybe I'm right about that.  But I would now rather for him to get clean and sober because I think, like ED, drugs are a Beast that clouds everything and take over a person's very soul.  And maybe, just maybe, he has a soul worth saving.

He's wrong about a great many things, as are many who hate so vehemently, but of course he was able to hurt us so because we do feel as though we let her down.  I've written about that again and again.  That sense of responsibility we feel toward the children we nurtured never goes away.  So, all of that is dredged up anew.  But, to that young man, here's the thing I say to you:  if you wanted me to lash back at you, to hate you as you hate me and, truly, as I believe you must hate yourself, then you've lost the gambit.  I won't take that bait.  I'll feel anger, maybe even rage for a time.  But you are not worth my hate because only I will suffer as a result of it and you don't mean that much to me.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Age of...

I know I probably owe my recently demised Ashley a post of her own.  All the other dogs have gotten one in honor of their passing.  Yet, I find I can't quite bring myself to do it.  In part because I took this death hard and there is a lot of guilt involved.  Before Kelsey discovered Tum Tum, Ashley was her touchstone, so this felt different than even the pain of losing the others.  Since Noelle, our Dalmatian, picked on her (Ashley was part Pit Bull and could end a fight, but she rarely started one and never without some serious provocation), she lived upstairs much of her life to keep away from all that canine drama.  As a result, she and Kelsey comforted one another during Kelsey's tough early years dealing with her disease.  It was when I refused to let Kelsey take Ashley to her apartment that Tum Tum came into the picture.  Kelsey couldn't care for a dog, I knew - she could barely care for herself.  But, sometimes I wonder if I did any better for dear, sweet, loyal Ashley who, in the last moments of her life I found out had a mass in her stomach.  I had no idea and have to wonder now how much of the behavior I put down to Grumpy Old Dog Syndrome was really something else.

But, also because I figure people are just sick to death (pardon the sad pun) of those kinds of posts from me.  Sometimes I just think Kelsey opened up a vortex and people and pets have been sucked through it at an alarming rate ever since.  There seems to have just been so much loss in the last few years.   Yet, truth be told, I think it's just because I'm at That Age.  The age when my friends who are a little older are legitimately slowing down and when someone calls or emails and the conversation begins, "I've got some bad news..." you immediately wonder who it is.  And what it is:  cancer is a word that looms way too large in my vernacular these days.  Heart disease is not a rarity either.  It's still a tragic loss when a contemporary passes on, and we all shake our heads sadly and say they died too soon, but it is no longer the shocking rarity it was when we were in our 20's.  And that makes sense.  It's the law of averages.  A few years ago I realized the need to keep a stock of sympathy cards at the ready for my friends when their parents passed away.  Now I occasionally have to also use one for a friend or their spouse. That trend won't reverse with the passage of time.  It's just something I have to know and learn how to accept.  And, I have no doubt that I'm not the first person to grapple with feelings of both guilt and secret relief when they learn someone around their age has health problems and thinks, "Thank God I have my health."  For now anyway.  And that's also not going to go away as time marches cruelly on.

I admit I've struggled a little recently, my heart still tender from my friend's passing, a little rattled by the news that another friend had a mastectomy (although the post operative news is very good), and now the sudden goodbye to Ashley.  If this is what life is going to be like going forward, I thought to myself a time or two, what's the point?

On the flip side of the coin was a lovely family evening with two of my cousins and our spouses earlier in the week.  I don't get to see my mother's family often - although they were part of the draw to moving to this area - yet, I realize that every time I do I come away with a great, warm feeling that you would hope to associate with family.  They all have known one another all their lives, so they share common stories and experiences, yet they accept Greg and me like we are - well - family.  It's like curling up with a cozy blanket.  It's a comfortable feeling.

Then at the end of the week came my Lovely Philly Friend who was in town over the weekend and invited me to come with her, her husband and mother to the zoo, almost as if she somehow knew I needed a little rescuing.  I had to think about it for a few minutes since it involved recording the hockey game - which was being played a day later than scheduled in Boston after the city went through its own rather dramatic week.  But, I knew as soon as I pulled into the parking lot that I had made the right decision.  It was completely life affirming.  A crisp day that began with some random snow in the air, the animals were up and restless, but it wasn't overly crowded by the human animals.  It's hard to describe the magic of the zoo if you're not an animal lover. And maybe even if you are, because it can seem wrong and sometimes sad to see animals contained.  Yet, to have a beautiful animal walk up within a foot of you and the two of you share a moment, both safely contained from the other, well, it's hard to put a value on that.  And it happens so often at this particular zoo.  Tragedy happens there from time-to-time, but magic happens too.  A little like life.

So, after the see-saw emotions of the week settled in, I concluded that, for those of us on the latter half of our life's journey, we just have to take the joys that the world has when we get them and balance them against the sorrows that we now have to accept will come more frequently.  We have to be thankful that we've stuck around long enough to be at this point on the road and not waste moments of happiness when they cross our path.  In short, we have to live in the Age of Reason, not the Age of Fear.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Too Old for This S**t

I'll never forget my business partner telling me to cut a troublesome employee some slack because she was 50 and just didn't want to work that hard anymore.  At the time, firmly rooted in my 30's, with no grey hair, pretty good vision, no need to stuff any body part into a form fitting undergarment, and the perk and drive to grow a career, that seemed like an insulting statement.  There was no reason in the world that I could see that a woman entering her 50's wasn't just as capable as anyone else.  I think, looking back on it now, maybe I even pushed her harder after that statement got made because I wanted her to prove to the world that women were just as capable as men.  I don't know that I did it consciously.   But I bet I did increase the pressure, because the one thing I can tell you I remember thinking for certain was that no one would have said that about a man that age.  Turns out he was right about her - maybe not for the reason he thought he was - but she just didn't want to work as hard as it was going to take in the heady, hard days of trying to take the little mom and pop company we had and make it something more.  But I don't know if it was age so much as her world view.  She didn't need the money all that badly, she and her husband were relatively well off.  He was winding his career down, their daughter was grown and out of the house, and they envisioned finally recapturing that quiet time together that they had briefly as a young married couple.  It wasn't that she wasn't capable of working hard, she just didn't want to.  At the time, I think I saw that as shameful.  I've always felt the weight on my shoulders of the women who came before me and worked to create fissures in the glass ceiling.  I know myself well enough to imagine I projected that onto some of the people who worked for me.

I think about that long ago statement a lot now that I'm on the other side of the half century mark and I've definitely been thinking about it after last week.  And here's why:  I got a call late in the day on the Wednesday before Easter asking if I could come down to Dallas for a meeting with a new client on Monday.  I said sure, but it would probably be expensive to get a flight at this point.  My boss asked me to check into it and we'd decide the next day.  I did, sent him what I found and - he's very busy, I realize - it wasn't until very late Thursday that I got the go ahead to book everything and plan on coming.   So, that night, with one eye on the hockey game and one eye on the computer screen, I made all the arrangements for myself to fly out Easter Sunday, spend the day in the office and then fly home Tuesday so I could be logged back in and working by mid-afternoon.  Of course, since I've renamed Friday Hair on Fire Day at work, there was no time to really do much more than the normal stuff, that left Friday night to try and get some housework done because Greg and I were going to the hockey game the next day.  That really left Sunday morning to get ready to go to meet a client who is important enough to pay large bucks to fly me down for.  So, I take a look at myself as I ready to pack and this is what I see:

  • Once I peel off one of the baseball caps that I almost constantly sport, it was obvious that the roots are showing as are some hints of grey through the now-aging dye job with no chance to get to my hairdresser.  
  • I have what I refer to as "hockey nails".  For a full half century, I never really bit my nails.  That all changed when I started watching hockey - it's a nail biter kind of sport, often never over until it's completely over, so I'm working on getting past that, but I find it's a bit like an addiction and saying that you're going to stop just doesn't make it happen.
  • I'm certainly not as slim as I used to be and body parts that used to have some bounce in them now just have some flap and flop.
  • In all, looking at the person in the mirror, it just wasn't the person I would feel real confident putting my trust in as a client.
"Packing" for this quick trip now has to include a quick trip to Target for a box of root cover up, which was applied literally two hours before I left for the airport, then doing as much work on my nails as was possible to do with the material I had to work with, ending with a coat of clear polish to try and make it look at least like I give a damn.  I try to whiten the teeth with some cheap tooth bleach while I agonize over my potential wardrobe, which I finally resolve by tossing together an outfit featuring a long shirt that hides some of the bumps and rolls and pack some of kinds of undergarments that were probably used as torture devices in the Dark Ages.  I figure I've done as much as I can do to fix the wreck that is me and I unhappily head out to the airport for a long day of travel with my ego and self-confidence riding low.

Flash forward to Monday morning where, after a less than full night's worth of sleep, I look at the hair with the cheap root cover up job on it through the harsher light of the hotel bathroom and realize that the top of my hair is definitely darker and redder than the rest of the head.  I have to fight the sudden urge to bite the slim bit of nails I have as a result, I'm so freaked out by this discovery, because that harsh neon lighting is exactly what I will be facing at the office.  Finally, I realize, there is nothing for  it and maybe if I don't call attention to it, no one will look closely enough to notice.  I go down to breakfast in the lobby and sit near the TV where they are showing the Mike and Mike Show on ESPN.  So, rattled by my two-toned hair and uncomfortable in my tortuous underwear and dress shoes, I look at the larger of the Mikes.  He looks like it took him all of ten minutes to get ready for work and maybe that's generous.  Maybe he only needed five, if you don't count any time spent sitting over a cup of coffee and the morning paper.  And I all but guarantee you he out earns me by a lot.  There is not a woman alive who could make that much money on air and look like that, I reckon.  That got me to thinking about Rush Limbaugh, who is an overweight gas bag.   How much do I suppose he makes?  And he looks like a hateful, spiteful Pillsbury Dough Boy.  What a double standard, I bemoan to myself.  All of that would only serve to be reinforced the next morning when, after a long day and a very early morning, I see a sharply dressed, tall and slender woman in the airport hurrying to get to the security checkpoint to whisk off to Wherever with her head held high and her shoulders back, and I think to myself, "Now that's a look that inspires confidence!" only to catch my reflection in some glass wall a moment later and see a tired, pale old woman. 

Bottom line, at this point in my life, it's work, and hard work, to try and look good enough to compete in the marketplace, and that's just to get the look.  I'm not even talking about the other stuff:  trying to always anticipate what the competitors are doing, stay ahead of them by working with the best cutting edge technology and thinking up the Next Big Thing.  Or, since I'm sort of out of that game, it's more about successfully supporting my boss's Big Things, but doing it well and anticipating how best to do that.  It's not as easy nor as fun as it used to be.  It's work.

I think I have to say that I'm getting too old for this shit.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

To Betty

"As the years went by, we drifted apart
When I heard that you were gone
I felt a shadow cross my heart

But he's nobody's hero
Saves a drowning child
Cures a wasting disease
Hero...lands the crippled airplane
Solved great mysteries
Hero...not the handsome actor
Who plays a hero's role
Hero...not the glamour girl
Who'd love to sell her soul
If anybody's buying
Nobody's hero


- Nobody's Hero, Rush

The other day I was trying to think how long I'd known you and I never came up with a firm date.  But, I can tell you that the bronze cat adorning my bookshelf that you gave me for my birthday once is now entering his 27th year, so it's safe to assume we were going on three full decades.  Yet, I'm not sure I really knew you at all.  When we first met, I was young and flighty - I had an intelligence to me, I might grant you, but not any wisdom, so it was easy to see what attracted me to you, but I'll never know what it was that you saw in me.  Maybe some raw potential, who knows.  But, for my side of the equation, you were a decade older with a lifetime of exotic travels and experience.  A microbiologist who had formerly worked for the World Health Organization and traveled extensively.  It seemed so romantic to my naive eyes, even taking into account that the field you were in and the work you were doing made you witness to things that are so not pretty.  And maybe that's why you didn't do it anymore.  You know, I realize I don't even know really.   But, by the time I met you, you were settled in Austin running your own company, doing lab work for doctors offices and vet clinics, and that's how we met.  You did the lab work for the doctor my future mother-in-law worked for.  So, I've at least known you longer than I've been a married woman, and that's a long old time.

Really, we didn't have a lot in common.  We connected on our love for animals, but you were a cat person and I favor dogs.  We both loved movies, but didn't particularly agree on them.  One of my favorite memories was a spirited debate you, Greg and I had over the merits of The Natural one night at his parent's house.  Your argument was that it actually didn't have any for a long list of well thought out and articulated reasons, but I have a soft spot for baseball movies oddly enough (since I don't really follow the sport) and loved the symbolism of baseball as a purifying force, so I defended it vigorously.  For years it was a running joke that if you were coming over to watch a movie we'd be sure to pop in The Natural for you because we knew how much you loved it.

One thing you did truly love was a good glass of red wine, and you knew a lot about it.  If I know anything about it today, it was because of you, but since it's rare to see anyone sitting around a football stadium drinking wine, even that connection faded with time.  As far as I know that is the only vice you ever had, and you exercised it with the caution and discretion you did everything else.

I think the things people will remember about you the most is your voice - like dark tea flavored with honey, it was warm and flowing.  And of course your laugh, which people have commented on already when I posted the news on Facebook that you were gone.  You had a deep, genuine laugh that came from  deep within you.  You laughed easily and often, but I think that it masked deeper secrets.  Secrets that you kept to yourself because you were just on the cusp of the time when women could express themselves freely about who they truly were and whom they truly loved.  The funny thing is, as self-absorbed as I was, I always knew and accepted certain things about you, even if you never said them out loud.  But, I never told you that.  I wish that I had, but I'm not sure, even if I had, you would have felt like you could open up to me.  I hope you had someone out there with whom you could, but I don't actually know.  I think that you had kept some things so tightly held close to the vest for so long that it was second nature to you.  You know that I never went to your house?  Our common memories were at Greg's parent's house mainly.  Warm summer nights of good conversation fueled by wine you had brought.  But, it was easier to keep certain boundaries in a neutral location, isn't it?  We were very different that way as well - you shrouded in mystery and me just willing to shout my secrets to the heavens.  What an odd couple we were.  I'm not even sure I could scare up a picture of you - I know I've got a few here and there, but you were deeply private, so I hope that you don't mind this post actually.

I got word a few days ago that you were in hospice care and it wouldn't be long now.  I puzzled over what I could send you (I toyed with sending a copy of The Natural - and would have done it too if I was sure you'd remember the joke), but I hadn't settled on anything yet.  I had already been booked to come to Dallas for a day on business and considered holding over and coming down to Austin to try and see you.  To Greg's infinite credit, he encouraged me to do it, but I was too worried about work to miss the time.  I could completely kick myself now.  I'm not sure I'll ever learn the lesson Life keeps trying to teach me that we work to live not the other way around.  Seriously, is that a final lesson you leave me with?  God, I hope I heed it this time.  But, here's what I wanted to say to you:  the last time I saw you was the night of the art auction we did for AFED featuring Kelsey's art, just over three years ago now if you can believe it.  You came, accompanied by a woman I'd never met, but she waited patiently while you sat and talked to me for a long while, that warm, comforting voice flowing over me, your clear, all-seeing eyes looking into mine.  I don't remember what all you talked about, it wasn't important.  What I knew you realized was how complicated that night was - both an affirmation of Kelsey's life and talent, but painful because she wasn't there to see it.  You could never know how much that meant to me.  I love my bronze cat - I've carried it from one place to another and now all across the country - but that night was the greatest gift you could ever give me.  I wanted to thank you for that.  I pray to God that you hear me now and know how much I loved you for all your complicated wisdom, hard won as I am sure it was.  I pray that you are peace now - in every way.  I won't be there for your funeral, but I will mourn your passing like you just can't imagine.