When Lifelong Friends Die

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The past three days have been tough. Incredibly, incredibly tough. Losing someone you love is no easy thing. In my book, I believe it’s the hardest facet of life you’ll ever have to face. And as inevitable as breathing.

I met my girlfriend Allison when I was twelve. I had recently moved to Woodmere (New York) and so had she. I guess both feeling like outcasts solidified that bond of mutuality that doesn’t come along often. And that it lasted a lifetime, wow, was a gift.

No two people were more different when it came to things we did, people we dated, clothes we wore. She was extremely smart school-wise, I was definitely not. She was on the conservative side, I believed the more outrageous, the better. She built a career, I didn’t. Like I said, two very different people. And yet, despite the intermittent years where we drifted apart, we never lost touch. We remained each other’s greatest allies. Because that’s what friends are. The Wind Beneath My Wings people who truly love you and want only the best for you. They make or break you. They are tenuous, they are fleeting, they are volatile, expanding and forever testing. They bring you up to a standard you might otherwise never dare to reach. They bring you soup when you’re sick. Don’t give a shit that you look a mess. They hold your hand in times of despair. They are there when your babies are born, when your parents die, when your husbands leave. They are there. Always, always there like a relentless storm or a magnificent rainbow reminding you that life is sometimes fucked up, sometimes cruel, but it is also equally beautiful. Despite the grief that shows up on your doorstep when they’re gone.

Yes, grief is something I know well. In fact, you could say we’re on a first-name basis. I guess it comes with the territory when you lose a sister who was everything to you, it creates a chasm you never fully get beyond, leaving you without an anchor. And this to me was unbearable. So I turned to the very small, very select group of women I’d known all my life and called them sisters … because it was the most natural thing in the world to do.

And now after fifty-two years to find myself minus one, is a feeling so gut-wrenching I want to scream. As a writer, I like to think of my words as my ammo, my link from point A to point B without ever having to move this butt from the chair. Yet, whatever I’m saying right now can’t touch the depth of my sadness over losing Allison or the unfathomable anger that there won’t be other days, other phone calls to commiserate over. What we had … is it. Yes, I know we shared some fantastic, wonderful moments and that all I need do is think of them, think of her with those big, funky glasses of hers, and I’m smiling. She deserves that celebration of life. All those incredibly special people do.

But you know, the truth is, I am so not there yet. Okay? Give me time.

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On the Road of Life What I’ve Learned Along the Way

With my 64th birthday around the corner and my sexagenarian status firmly in place, I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two over the decades. Which is why I thought now would be as good a time as any to jot down whatever wisdom I’ve accumulated … so far.

1. Life is an ever expanding gift of moments. Defining moments precious and rare, and boundlessly filled with joy, tenderness, heartbreak, beauty, braces, babies and mortgage payments all rolled up together.

2. Everything always has a way of working itself out. Maybe not in the way you expected. But give it a moment. Take a breath, and let the universe do its thing.

3. The perception of importance rests entirely with you. How you see yourself shouldn’t be dictated by others.

4. As much as I hate to admit it, chocolate isn’t a food group.

5. Ignorance is not bliss. Nor is sticking your head in the sand the best way to avoid issues. If you expect change, then you have to be part of that change. It will be the most empowering thing you’ll ever do.

6. Despite what people project, we’re more alike than we’re different. Underneath our Dolce & Gabbana and TJ Maxx specials, we’re all scared human beings. We’re f**ked up to some degree, we’re needy, insecure and even broken. All the more reason to not be so judgmental.

7.  Lord Byron said, “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.” So, go take that walk on the beach and give your soul a shot in the arm. Everything else will wait.

8. Happiness starts and ends with you.

9. Friends are those people who stick around when no one else does. They’re your rocks of granite, your cheering squads, telling those truths you might otherwise not want to hear. And if you end up with just one, well, then you’re luckier than most.

10. Forget the idea that publishing your next novel will fix everything that ails you, and put the happiness chip back into your heart. It won’t happen. What keeps you grounded is not the prize rather the actual doing. The writing. The emancipation of word after word. The same string of thought that you alone created. That is the joy.

11. Take care of your teeth. Floss daily and get regular cleanings. You’ll thank me later!

12. Stay in shape as best you can. Get down on the mat, stretch those old legs, take walks, take bike rides. Anything to keep you physically and mentally alert. This is another one of those things you’ll thank me for.

13. Humility. I don’t imagine this comes readily to anyone under the age of thirty. But eventually you learn that you don’t know everything. You’re not the best at everything, and if you want to get anywhere in life you must first take those baby steps just like everyone else.

14. Family is everything and sometimes they’re nothing. They are the most frustrating relationships you’ll ever have to tackle.

15. At some point you’re going to have to make peace with all those things hanging around in your refrigerator. Yup, the ice cream, the tacos, the chocolate chip cookies. No more battles. If you want that slice of cake, I say go for it!

16. Reaching out to those less fortunate and less capable is our human responsibility. People, children, animals, all those that cannot fend for themselves deserve to be shown even a morsel of love and kindness. It’s not rocket science.

17. Death. This is what I perceive to be the hardest thing you’ll be forced to bear. Losing those people you can’t imagine your life like without. When they die, a huge chunk of you will die too. It’s a loss you will never fully get beyond. But maybe that’s the point … you’re not supposed to.

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Protest is Matzo Ball Soup for the Soul

1793-1863, Washington, DC, USA --- Red, White, and Blue Balloons Over the U.S. Capitol Building --- Image by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS

Capitol Building (Wally McNamee/CORBIS)

So the women of the United States had a party January 21st and the world showed up.

Well, maybe not the whole world. But I think pretty darn close with lots of men and children joining in.

All across the country and beyond our borders, rallies were held, parades ensued and tons of speeches were made. Some better than others, but that wasn’t really the point of things. The point was for everyone to come together in this magnificent show of strength and solidarity against a magnitude of human wrongs. And while the eyes of the world watched on, some with disbelief, some with pride, a message was sent out to the universe. One that said: “We will not go gently into that good night.”

As women, we have a long history in this marching department.

Suffragette Movement, 1913

Suffragette Movement, 1913

Equality Day, New York, August 26, 1970. (Eugene Gordon/The New York Historical Society/Getty Images)

Equality Day, New York, August 26, 1970. (Eugene Gordon/The New York Historical Society/Getty Images)

We show up when we need to. Like a beautiful shiny penny. With new generations and new causes in tow. Always ready to fight the good fight … and march. That is the thing we remember above all else. The march. “Nothing can quite replace your first love and your first march,” were Gloria Steinem’s words spoken in Washington last week, recalling the overwhelming feeling she experienced that day in 1970 as she watched Fifth Avenue swell with people in numbers greater than she could have ever imagined. And for her, this protest, so many protests later, seemed to spark that same powerful emotion.

Yes, when we march, we push our whole selves forward. Heedless against danger, across miles and miles. And come the end, though our feet may be tired, our souls are now rested.

It’s been forty some-odd years since I marched last. I was a much different woman back then. Younger, obviously and thinking different thoughts at what I considered a grave period in history. The ’70s. A time when drugs flowed like the Mississippi, when sit-ins and love-ins were accepted rites of passage, and Black Power, Flower Power, Kent State, My Lai and Roe versus Wade dominated our everyday lives while a cultural and social revolution backlashed against a loathed government and shameful war.

Forty years does change a person. It can’t be helped as life steps in, bringing with it a whole ‘nother spectrum analysis that otherwise you wouldn’t think twice about. When I read that a march on Washington, DC was being planned, I pushed the idea of it aside, completely. I was too busy editing my next book, was what I told myself. That and making a trip so far coupled with the expense, left me feeling justified why I couldn’t go. But when I saw that a rally was going to take place in Miami, something in me tugged. Tugged so hard with the voice of of all those long-forgotten reasons why I do what I do, who I am, what’s important to me … I had NO choice but to go.

Don’t ask how or why I became so anti-social injustice, so anti-war, so pro-Veteran. I have no clue. I didn’t come from a long line of rebellious types. Yes, they all were strong people, opinionated people, but they weren’t activists in any scope of the word. Sure, my Dad fought in WWII, as did probably many of yours. But he came home. There was though this Donna Reed sense of civic-mindedness swirling around my house for as long as I can remember. Which I attributed to my mother, since she was the one who belonged to Hadassah, to the PTA and a variety of other organizations with their food drives and clothing drives, that I suppose may or may not have been the jumping point from which I took my cue.

And moved on from there. To different crusader helmets and different role models. Women throwing their tams in the air, strumming their guitars, creating change with their pens and voices, who spoke about the kind of change I wanted to see happen during my lifetime. Angela Davis. Gloria Steinem. Betty Friedan, Joan Baez. Mary Tyler Moore. Nina Simone. Rita Mae Brown. These were my teachers, my inspirators.

So last Saturday morning I woke up, totally psyched. Ready to go. Then praying to God that wherever this march took me my knees would hold up and I’d find a place to pee, I made the drive down to Miami. Not a long drive, mind you, but a drive nevertheless. And the moment I turned onto Biscayne Boulevard, I knew I was heading into something undeniable, something revelatory. I could feel it. It was in the air suddenly charged with electricity, in the hum of voices gathering momentum and in all the faces filled with joy and good cheer converging onto Bayfront Park.

Some people called the Women’s March a display of girl power versus Trump power. But as I stretched my gaze across the sea of pink pussy hats stationed not just in Miami or Washington D.C, but all across the globe, I realized it was all about those amazing signs! Wow!

Women's March On Washington - March

Angela Davis (Spencer Allen/ AP Images)

Angela Davis (Spencer Allen/ AP Images)

Like I said … amazing! 🙂

So, yeah, there I was, right in the thick of it all. Riding this incredible wave of activism as it took over the country. Well, me and a few thousand others marching up and down Biscayne Boulevard like joyous revelers, then over to MacArthur Causeway where we forced traffic to a dead stop and in both directions while we chanted our slogans, while we bounced along posing for the cameras thrusting our signs to the wind like warriors.

It was my moment in the sun—and I knew it. I felt the power of it in my feet as I marched, as I heard Dr. Martin Luther King’s words, “there is no noise as powerful as the sound of the of the marching feet of a determined people,” ring in my head, followed by songs. Lots of songs. Protest songs. The music of my youth. Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Peter, Paul and Mary, Judy Collins, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The words stirred my soul in a way that left me feeling eighteen again. And it was a feeling I didn’t want to end.

Rebellious anger is a phenomenal thing. A momentous battle of armor especially when it’s fueled by indignation, hope and righteousness.

It took me days and days to come off my cloud. I wanted to savor it all a little while longer before trying to deal with the thought of … what now? Where do we go from here? Do we simply all just put our pussy hats and signs away? Or do we keep this movement alive? These are important questions, big questions that I can already see are being asked everywhere, by everyone.

And for me … this one’s a no-brainer.

There are so many ways for all of us to get involved, create change.

  1. Get to know who your local legislators and politicians are. Then find out how to get in touch with them and make them listen. Forget tweeting. Write a letter or email. That’s the best way to reach them.
  2. Identify an issue you feel strong about, and pursue it.
  3. Attend town hall meetings or city council meetings in your local area.
  4. It’s all about the numbers. One is cool, but many is even cooler. Mobilize those around you to help support your cause. Preferably in the flesh. It will magnify things. Trust me!
  5. Join a campaign. Get involved. Find a local politician you feel represents your views and equally wants to see change happen. Then pound the pavement. Nothing speaks louder then grassroots stuff where you influence people, one-on-one, face-to-face.
  6. Reach out to your community. There’s an abundance of religious organizations, homeless shelters, schools, local VA hospitals in need of you.

So, if you believe things are not as they should be, then I ask you to now act on those beliefs. Stop bitching in front of your computer. Stop tweeting, stop Facebooking and put your time and hands to better use.

I promise, you won’t regret it!

 

 

 

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