Thursday, April 25, 2013

The distance that defines us.

(From right: Hubby, eldest son, his daughter, I and my son's wife)

We spend more time facing our mobiles than  
walking side by side
the way people do in 
other places
other countries
other times.
Each time we see each other, we re-learn habits
on an hourly rate
negotiating every little decision, where to go for dinner
what to do for fun. 

We notice how much and how little
we have changed;  how little and how much we know of each other's
daily challenges
as years and months are rolled up and stewed down to their essence
each time we see each other.
We talk, or avoid talking; we share or avoid sharing;
initiate and extinguish difficult conversations
reveal and dispel fears.

Which each hour
each day
each activity
memories return brighter
ties grow stronger
a new balance is re-established. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

We have to face the truth.

My dad used to tell his friends of the time when barely a toddler I blurted something out while he was negotiating to sell his horse. I told the other party they were trying to find faults with the horse because they didn't want to pay what the horse was worth. I was three years old and truth came out of my mouth like a wild spring.

My parents worked hard at modifying my enthusiastic delivery.

Now that I'm older and wiser, I pride myself on the simple principle that truth, the whole truth must come out somehow, and much of it in plain speech. I tend to appreciate food when it is presented in ways that all its elements are easily identifiable too.

And that brings me to today's topic. At our age, with our experience, with few days ahead, we are obligated by ethics and morals to state the truth and face it with grace. We can't hide it to save face; we can't hide it because someone will be offended; we can't hide it because we'll lose friends and acquaintances.

The horrible truth on my mind this morning is the tragedy in Boston and all  the tragedies that involved young people, in Columbine, in Newtown. The perpetrators all felt like outsiders, friendless in most cases.  As a nation we say words like "mentally ill" and then we bury that truth in the rubble of blame and the carnage of fear.

People with mental illnesses, people who are suffering unbearable abuse, people with major paranoia and insecurities, people who hurt and can't cope with life's bumps, all of them just a minute away from committing abominable acts towards themselves, or towards innocent victims, living right in our house,or next door, among sane, smart, law abiding folks, these people walk right along us in malls, schools, churches, public and private offices.

Can we say we don't know what to do?
Can we say that just throwing a label their way does no good?
Can we say that we have been silent too long?
Can we say that "mental health" has to be our new frontier?


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Not every one golfs here.

Thirty minutes north of here we can play golf at the world class Bandon Dunes, designed to resemble the links on the Scottish Highlands. We had lunch last weekend as people who had flown in for the game spent hundreds to play a round and more to be housed in lakeside bungalows and lodges with the sounds of the Pacific as it roiled and moaned all night.

Most people who live here cannot afford to play here.

But they are happy The Dunes provide work. Some work full time with benefits; many more work part time. Groundskeepers, the wait staff, housekeepers, caddies, drivers,  cooks, general service people feel lucky to have a job, any job. They do  not have the extra money to cover even one round of golf in the place they work. Young, ambitious high school juniors become caddies as soon as they qualify, and will work here for a few years, unless they are headed for college with a scholarship and the blessings of a supportive family. Most of the young people will not return to their town after graduation because the chances of getting a job is quite small, anywhere on this coast where millionaires fly in on chartered jets and play a weekend of golf without giving a thought to the town that is hosting them.

Before Bandon Dunes came to the west coast, cities like Bandon, Coos Bay, Port Orford, Gold Beach, survived on lumber and fishing and ranching. With the arrival of retirees from California and other areas where real estate had reached skyscrapers' prices these towns began to see an influx of steady income and the need for services like health care and hospitality. Restaurants and hospitals are doing well; other businesses, however start up and close down within a couple of years.

People here survive on very little. Over 70% of our school children qualify for free or reduced lunches. Parents  work part time, with no benefits and make do with  meager salaries. The free dental van that visits our elementary schools found a bigger percentage of dental decay in our children  than usually found in undeveloped countries.

You are not going to hear sad stories out of anybody's mouths. These people are survivors, proud of their abilities to make do, year after year, cutting wood to use for heat and cooking, growing their own food, hunting and freezing their own meats, fishing in the rivers for fish that will feed their families for weeks. You may find they are eager to help neighbors, and they trade easily with each other, a mower, a tractor, a new part for an old engine.

The local municipalities have many challenges, not the least of which is how to upgrade crumbling buildings, water treatments, sewer systems, electrical grids, communication networks to keep the city alive and thriving. Grants are few and they require in-kind investments from a municipality without any industry to keep the coffers filled. Twice we have tried to pass a bond to upgrade our water system; both times it failed. With the sequester in place, schools and police force are seeing cuts that cannot be undone by local means. Safety and education will suffer; people will be displaced; food banks will empty out.

Yet, the golf business will continue to thrive. The recession did not affect them, as they developed and expanded even during those times; and they continue to grow and provide world-class recreation in a milieu of third-world economics.

Trouble, right here in Rivercity, my friends.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Untold stories.

Much of life's depth and breath fail to be represented, talked about, written about. Our movies, television shows, social media seem to be inspired by the very fortunate or the criminal. Our institutions are either glamorized or condemned.

Where are the stories about working people without college degrees, without savings, without mortgages because they don't make enough money, or can't save enough to put the minimum money down to afford a home in a decent neighborhood? Where are the stories about successes and failures of our institutions, schools, hospitals, churches, charitable organizations?

Ordinary lives are rich with extraordinary depth.

I'm challenging us all to share not just the pieces of our lives we have always shared, but the rest of our context. Sometimes, what's all around us, as we see people at the drugstore, the movie theater, the coffee shop, the doctor's office, what should intrigue us is to tell stories never told, to illuminate lives of unexpected courage right around the corner.

We all know a retiree living on  meager Social Security vouchers,  on food stamps and other public assistance; or someone who is a working poor constantly trying to keep from losing ground, hoping a catastrophe is avoided; even someone who cares for a mentally or physically challenged family member, burdened by a task that would crush most; young people who are trying to start a career, but have limited skills, making no progress.

I've been thinking about this topic ever since reading a short story in the April 1 edition of The New Yorker, about a motel maid with a child she brings to work with her titled: "Marjorie Lemke" by Sarah Braunstein.