Living The Life of Right. Or Maybe I Just Need a Bigger Stick.

“Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat.”

— Anais Nin

 

I don’t think I’ve ever met one person who hasn’t suffered in some way or who hasn’t been forced to face those extreme hardships that come hand-in-hand with the territory. And I definitely can’t imagine someone not having a story to tell, because there’s one in all of us.

Perhaps some are more glamorous, more intriguing, more heartbreaking than others, but it’s there, nevertheless. Right below the surface of our everyday moments. Filled with such sweeping colors, magnificent light, gusting winds, music, beauty, and misery across those Grand Canyon plateaus that somehow mark us with their presence then propel us forward, despite our feet begging not to go one step further.

But we must. So we do.

I’ve always imagined a shorter life than the one I’ve been given. Maybe the man upstairs decided my sorry ass had a greater purpose. And so in the interim, I stand on my own little piece of terra firma as a witness to everyone else’s story, doing what I do, soaking in all that surrounds me like a precious gift. Because I think that’s what life is, a gift. It’s easy for us to not always view it that way; especially when we’re drowning in despair or dodging all those curveballs suddenly in our faces. But it is. It’s another joyous moment where we get to breathe and if we’re lucky enough, we just might also do something miraculous.

This past April, I saw the movie, Woman in Gold. It was impactful then, and now months later seeing it again, I found it to be no less so. Based upon a remarkable true story of one woman’s quest to seek justice for what had happened to her and her family during WWII, Maria Altmann’s (Helen Mirren) story unfolds sixty years after she fled Vienna as she hires a young and inexperienced lawyer, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to help her retrieve several family-owned paintings that had been seized by the Nazis. However, the movie focuses on one in particular. It was of her aunt and titled: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. The artist was the masterfully talented Gustav Klimt. Not only had this particular painting become famous (the Mona Lisa of Austria), but it had been on display in the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, for decades.

As a little side note that some of you might already know (especially if you’ve seen the movie, The Monuments Men with George Clooney), during the war, Nazi Germany had implemented a systematic and widespread looting campaign of valuable artwork belonging not only to the Jews, but all occupied countries. Over the years, they amassed so many pieces that it took more than 1000 repositories across Austria and Germany to secretly house them all. And when the war ended, the artwork was discovered and international laws dealing with art restitution were soon passed. The project itself was and still is a colossal undertaking. And while numerous pieces have been identified and handed over to the respective countries from which they were confiscated in the hope of eventually finding their way back to their rightful owner, unfortunately as of today, it has been estimated that well over 100,000 works of great art still have not been returned.

Perhaps some might view the retrieval of stolen property as insignificant in comparison to the bigger picture; being that Maria Altmann was luckier than most—she lived. And yes, in the grand scheme of things, they would be right. However, as I sat in the movie theatre becoming more and more entrenched in the layers of her story peeling away, something else became glaringly clear.

What had been taken from her wasn’t the tangible at all. But the link to her history. And without it, Maria knew she would remain lost in the shadows of a life where blissful memories and terrifying experiences would lay buried, if she didn’t do something to make it right.

Okay. Sure. This is a message we’ve heard countless times before. Told through stories by Holocaust survivors, movies, books. Khmer Rouge’s “Killing Fields,” Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Native Americans. The genocides, the mass atrocities. Stories we’re not likely to forget, and yet like most things, they somehow still manage to get muted into the background, like yesterday’s news. And it’s exactly because of this inevitability that I believe every now and again it’s vital that we bring them back to the surface to remind ourselves, and more importantly to educate the next generation, our children and our children’s children; before lovingly passing it into their arms for safekeeping.

No, my dear friends, we can never forget. I don’t ever want to forget. Because if I do, then, well, I deny its existence and, therefore, I deny myself. It’s as simple as that. The past might be in the past, but it is who we are.

There’s a scene near the end of the movie where Randy Schoenberg is in Vienna standing before the Restitution Mediation panel, with the eyes and ears of all Austria watching on as he delivers his final plea before a ruling is made on who is the rightful heir to the painting: Maria Altmann or Austria. It’s one of those compelling David versus Goliath moments we all love. Whether it comes to us in life or in a movie, doesn’t seem to matter. The effect is the same. Rousing some unseen force from within, and shakes us silly. And in this case, in this eloquent “sins of our father” speech, the new world thinking of the present was reminding the old world values of the past that a war had been waged, that millions had undeniably been exterminated, that the citizens of Austria blindly participated, and what they now needed to do in order to bring about a healing closure, not only for Maria Altmann or the Jewish people, but for themselves as a culture, once and for all. Acknowledge their wrong.

Many years ago, as a young woman living in Mexico, I remember being in a restaurant with some people I knew, some I’d just met. Upon introduction, I realized that the young man sitting to my right was from Germany. All throughout dinner, I couldn’t look at him, let alone say two words. It wasn’t as if I’d led a sheltered life or that I’d lost people in the war. Because that wasn’t the case at all. And yet, for some inexplicable, some irrational reason, at that moment, his face and Hiltler’s were one and the same. All night I fought against this misplaced anger. And he obviously sensed my inner turmoil, because at some point afterwards, when I was standing alone near the bar, he came over to me, and just like that, he apologized.

“For what?” I asked, confused. “For what my people did to yours.”

Woman in Gold isn’t just a story about the Holocaust or the importance of family heirlooms. It’s about reclamation of heritage. It’s about justice, plain and simple. Standing up for what’s right. That’s what Maria Altmann did in such a Herculean way against so many forces, despite the undeniable odds. And that’s what makes this story so powerful, so inspiring for me. I wanted to pick up my stick and do battle, right there and then.

Many times in our everyday lives we’re forced to face the unthinkable. But does that standing up to those things make us better human beings or simply hammer in how far we still need to go? It’s not enough just to do the good deeds, to live the right life. Giving a helping hand to a friend, working at shelters, caring for those human and non-human beings who can’t help themselves, yes . . . are commendable acts—even necessary. But I somehow don’t imagine these things alone are enough. We must do more. We must stretch our moral fiber beyond those comfortable borders, when the moment arises.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

— Haruki Murakami

 

All of us share this same type of desire: to stand up against what’s wrong in the world. I think it’s part of our DNA. And yet many cannot, many do not—for whatever reason.

Look, I don’t feel that my pain is greater than anyone else’s. We’ve all had a look at the dark side. It’s not pretty. And the moment I rest on that lollapalooza, I’m finished. Okay? Standing in judgment is simply not the way to go. Not for me anyway. How each one of us chooses to lead the best possible life is a decision only we can make and, ultimately, something we all have to live with. Whether it’s standing on the sidelines or in the thick of those messy things, wielding a sword, I will love you all the same.

Me? I prefer messy. But, hey . . . what do I know? I’m the girl walking around with the fuzzy Dumbo hat on her head, sipping fruity martinis.

Share this:
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Email this to someone
2 Comments

The Slippery and Sometimes Thankless Slope of Motherhood: Its Joys and Perils

“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

— Jackie Kennedy Onassis

 

In this department, there are no do-overs. You get one shot at getting this right. . . and that’s it!

I was lucky. No, blessed to have given birth to two healthy children. The strange thing was I never expected to be a mother. I didn’t even envision myself in that role growing up. And yet, as I reached my mid-twenties, those pangs of maternal instinct came banging on my door anyway, saying: whatever plans you’ve got in mind for yourself lady, forget ‘em!

And I did, with the happy obliviousness of a person slipping on a pair of shoes, two sizes too big.

But hey, what did I know? I was still young and stupid and about to learn very quickly my needs would come last. That and my perspective on everything would change.

I always believed babies were beautiful creatures. Messy, but beautiful and never moreso then when they’re ours. Right? I mean, I don’t think it’s possible for a mother to look at her child and say, “ewww, what a creepy looking nose.” We’re simply not programmed that way. For us it’s imperative that we look past any and all imperfections and hold our precious little offspring up to a level reserved only for future kings and queens. Because if we don’t, we’ll never survive the path called rebellion stretched out before us.

It’s a harrowing road, yes siree Bob, and for some strange and crazy reason we don’t even think about. No matter how many children we have. It works along the same glutton-for-punishment vein as birth. You simply forget those labor pains and go back for more. I think it has something to do with the female hotwiring, similar to robots. Press the button, spread the legs and off you go. Oh yeah. Thanks God, I owe ya one!

Anyway, like I said, you innately look past those things. You do because the being you gave life to, is suddenly this whole person. This tiny mass of giggling arms and legs taking their first step across the room; boarding the school bus for the very first time on their way to kindergarten, leaving you there crying as you wave goodbye; packing the car and heading off to college, person.

Yes, those prized moments of “firsts” seeing their faces lit with all the excitement and newness life has to bear, are the dividends. The rewards we get as mothers to be present in their lives as they take shape and hopefully embody those hopes and dreams we’ve laid at their feet.

I’m not sure our children ever truly realize all that we do for them. What great sacrifices were made on our part so that they could have a better education, live in a safer environment, experience life from all angles before going off on their own. As mothers (and fathers), we don’t do these things with any sort of expectation in mind. We just do them—and that’s that. We ignore and we accept that their worlds have imposed on ours and hopefully somewhere along the way that heartfelt realization will eventually come to them.

And if it doesn’t . . . oh well, we’re still good. There’s always tomorrow. Maybe.

Share this:
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Email this to someone
Leave a Comment

When The Mountain Came to Muhammed

Once you get to a certain age, (okay my 60+ age), everything changes.  Not just the obvious physical adjustments where stiff joints, bad hearing, and age spots become a part of your daily existence, but the I’m-going-to-set-the-world-on-fire kind of dreams that once consumed us are now lavished on our children and our grandchildren.  For the simple reason we are just happy to be alive.  Well, I am anyway after all those drugs I consumed back in the ‘70s during a social revolution where sex, drugs, and yada, yada, yada were considered very cool.

Yes, I think it’s safe to say our younger selves were very different creatures than the ones looking back at us now in the mirror.  But that’s okay.  Because as we glide into this next phase of our lives a greater understanding comes into play.  One of who we are and acceptance.  That need to prove yourself to the world, is now a thing of the past.  (Love it). You’re no longer swept up in the hypocrisy, the arrogance, the petty gossiping of what others think of you or say about you, because in reality who on God’s green earth has that type of time?  Really?  I sure as hell don’t!

No, at this particular juncture, the only one you have something to prove to is you.

mountain.3

Eight years ago, feeling irrelevant as though I’d missed the boat on so many levels of my life, I sat two of my friends down and informed them I was going to write a book. Neither looked shocked and were, if anything, encouraging as I embarked on what would turn into the hardest and longest project of my life (to date).   Months turned into years and the manuscript grew and grew and grew, leaving me to think that War and Peace would look like a novella against my epic—when and if I ever finished the damn thing.

And while I continued to pound away at the keyboard, in between working a full-time job and life happening, other stories that wanted telling popped into my head.  As a person infected with all sorts of lovely little issues—OCD, ADD and Procrastination-itis at the top of that long list—I felt torn.  I also felt that I might drop dead tomorrow, then where would I be.  I had so much I wanted to say.  So many conversations I needed to put out there into the cosmic Ethernet.  If for no one’s sake, but my own.

So I put my still-unfinished albatross aside and began working on a story I had floating around in my head, about a young woman living in New York City, who leads a most unconventional life, yet lives it quite alone.  As both a victim and a survivor of societal issues, I found her compelling as she breathed to life.  Her struggles seemed to be my struggles, or someone like me; which enabled the words to pour out at record speed.

Again as the Queen of Dawdlers, the fact that I finally finished something meant more to me than anything. And that I spoke from the heart about an issue that’s important and perhaps uncomfortable for some people, is equally tantamount to this newfound sense of accomplishment.  I’m not concerned whether or not some reviews might claim the topic is old news.  The truth is while issues are raised every day trying to bring about a higher public awareness, they are rarely resolved in short heartbeats.  It takes mountains and monumental efforts of time to grasp the big picture.  It takes talk.  Real talk where people have to open wounds, have to lift back those band aids with a sense of readiness as they tread on territory they would prefer not to roam at all.

Oh yes, I completely understand that one all right.  It took me thirty years just to articulate the grief I’ve been experiencing over the loss of my sister.  When I finally put to paper all those bottled up feelings, it felt like a bright light washing over me.  I was glad I finally did it.  I was even more thrilled that the essay was picked up by an online blogging community.  As my story reached thousands of people, I realized from the feedback just how necessary having these types of conversations are.  How else do we bring about real change? How else do we grow?

I believe in the long run people are desperate for honesty.  For truth and glimmers of compassion.  They are hungering for some brave soul to step forward and say:  “Hey!  I know exactly how you feel.  Been there myself quite a few times.  And you’re right.  It fucking sucks!  It took a long time to get my head on straight, and eventually you will too.  I promise!”

I believe it’s okay that we agree to disagree.  It takes great courage to speak the truth.  To live your life out loud with this sort of honesty of mind where things that feel shallow sink and things that feel true float upon the surface as you give voice to all those inner frailties that makes us human.  Because the thing is, we’re all fucked up!  To some degree or another.  I don’t see anyone here exempt from this messy pod pool of mankind. Not you, not me, not the mailman.  Okay?

Look, all I’m saying is that as we get closer to our number being called, we must remain true to ourselves and do what feels right.  So if that involves crusading the homeless, opening a cupcake shop, knitting sweaters for Etsy, swimming the Atlantic, or simply retiring to the west coast of Florida with all your Jujubes intact, then by all means. . . do it!

Me?  I’m writing another book.

 

Share this:
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Email this to someone
1 Comment