Archive for November, 2018

I’m feeling better, thank you.

I had a crappy day Tuesday. The culmination of two weeks of depressing events.

It started with the murder of eleven Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. A week later the mayhem at the synagogue was topped by an ex-Marine who slaughtered twelve innocents who were out for a good time.

The election, complete with its own tensions, was but a pit-stop in the course of events. Deadly fires took center stage by burning down Paradise and sending movie stars to evacuation centers in Malibu. Neither gunmen nor Mother Nature was rationally selective in their choice of victims.

In a reversal of fortune, daughter Nancy was forced to seek shelter elsewhere as drought fed flames threatened her Calabasas home. Last December, it was I who was the victim of the month as I escaped the Thomas Fire in Ojai and took refuge in Calabasas. Now it was her turn in the box. None of us are immune to what has become a state ready for burning regardless of season.

My friend lost his son to a drug overdose. A young life snuffed out in his prime. I attended a sad memorial service of remembrance.

When I could have used some warm hugs, my sweetheart Jackie was in Hawaii visiting her daughter. Friends, no matter how attentive or compassionate, are no substitute for a lover’s bright eyes, warm hands and soft words.

My sleep patterns were disturbed. I usually fall asleep quickly, wake around 3am, take a pee break and then fall asleep again for a couple of hours. But the last few weeks have found me unable to resume sleeping once awake. Instead, I’d toss and turn in a two-hour half-sleep filled with muddled thoughts. Unable to think clearly, my thoughts would crescendo into unshakable, pessimistic fantasies. Ones that would seem stupid in the light of day but quite real in the darkness of my bedroom.

I’d meet people at the gym, the grocery, the coffee shop and the library. “Good morning. How are you?” they’d ask. Fearful of ruining their day or causing them to retreat from me as though I had leprosy, I’d force a smile and falsely respond “Fine, how are you?” Knowing full well that they were probably as disturbed as I was, they would lie “Great. Thanks for asking.” And we’d move on separately to our next victim.

Tuesday is the day my bereavement group meets at the Help of Ojai west campus. I’ve been going to these meetings ever since my sweet Ila died. Most of the seven or eight attendees are women who have lost spouses or children. Faces change but many keep coming back. Men show up occasionally. Urged by Jackie to stick with it, I consider myself a regular.

There is no set agenda. No one is forced to speak, yet the ninety minutes fly by without a break. We usually begin by offering a brief glimpse into our own emotional state, events that may have impacted our lives or just a phrase that may say much with but a few words. It’s not necessary to mince words or hold back since those in attendance understand that what’s shared in that small room stays in that small room.

“I am having a crappy day” I heard myself say. I briefly rattled off a list of the contributing offenders and sat back waiting for something to happen. I half expected Dr. Phil or Dr. Ruth to appear with happiness in a bag. Nothing happened. On to the next person. Left in the ashes, I sulked.

Getting through the holidays was on the mind of many at the table. I’ve never found that Thanksgiving had any impact on my mood. Being Jewish leaves me fairly neutral about Christmas. Suddenly, Phyllis, our group leader turned to me and asked “Fred, when is Hanukkah?” I turned to her and without thinking said “Is this a test? How the hell would I know?” And added “When I find out, I’ll set fire to myself…like a beacon.”

It all seemed so outrageously funny that I started laughing. As did everyone else who, a moment before, had been consoling themselves about being alone for the holidays. We laughed loudly for what seemed like an hour. I hadn’t roared like that in two weeks. I felt wonderful. I forgot about being crappy, leaned back in my chair and smiled. And so did everyone else.

Jackie came home last night.

Is anyone listening?

Many years ago, in a country far, far away, there lived an old man who thought he had seen it all. He had been through every kind of natural and man-made disaster but had managed to cheat death and live a peaceful existence. Until now.

His neighbors and friends, having been impacted by global warming, immigration, declining food stocks and 24/7 exposure to events around the world, had grown increasingly sullen, insular and argumentative.  Mere differences of opinion could not be solved by peaceful discussion. A profound loss of common decency was replaced by strident self-interest. This rapidly deteriorating state-of-affairs was something the old man hadn’t  seen before. His neighbors, once unified and caring, had turned surly. They no longer spoke to one another. They only sought the company of those who were like-minded and who shared similar opinions of right and wrong.

People separated into two distinct groups, each easily identifiable by the color of their clothing. One group wore red. Red shirts, red pants and red shoes. The other wore blue, including their underwear. The Blues walked down the left side of the only street in the country, while the Reds filled the right. Some Reds and some Blues, more strident than others in their group, wore large felt hats emblazoned with their group motto Me First. They also carried large signs that, in appropriately colored letters, shouted their group’s demands. They carried the signs wherever they went; into the supermarket, the church and the schools.

Their children were indoctrinated from the age of three by TVs, computer screens and smart phones. Talking heads poured forth their vitriol twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Panel discussions deteriorated into near brawls. Children freely mocked other children without punishment.

Each group embraced leaders who promised to ignore the pleadings of the other group.  Once amiable and social despite their differences, the leaders of each group now shunned their counterparts and never crossed the street. Eye contact became rare; verbal intercourse was only used in dire circumstances. The unwillingness of the groups to speak with each other left the street in disrepair and eventually all public conveyances had to be removed from active service. Unable to move without restraint, people became even more insular.

The only meaningful activity was voting in elections that occurred every two years. Pitting Blues against Reds, these elections were preceded by attack-ads that focused on the personal traits and imaginary foibles of one’s opponent. Real issues, in particular the much-needed repair of the only street in the country, were either ignored or promises made that were either impractical or required solutions that were well beyond the available financing. Elections regularly caused the in-party to lose control. Every two years, any positive steps taken by the party last in power were undone by the incoming party.  Soon, fed up by the lack of any solution, the street issue faded into obscurity.

Although elections occurred only every two years, campaigning was non-stop. Fundraising for candidates began the day after the bi-annual election. Pleas for funding soon eclipsed the funds raised in the last election. People, fearing that the other side would eclipse their own meager resources, poured money into the pockets of their chosen candidates. Property taxes, income taxes and other revenue sources were regularly reduced by the party in power in order to fund candidates.

Other public services began to diminish. Schools closed, police and fire personnel were laid off and the street continued to crumble. Each side blamed the other for this lack of service. Those who won an election would initially promise to create greater unity with the other party. This commitment soon faded, and threats continued to be hurled across the potholed street by both Reds and Blues. Blues who were seen consorting with Reds were deemed traitors. Reds suffered the same consequences. Meaningful discourse ended.

Financially bankrupt, their infrastructure in ruins and unwilling to compromise, the country became insolvent and unmanageable.  Other countries surrounding it viewed the dire situation as an opportunity for expansion. Efforts to fend off the attackers weakened the country and left it without recourse. It gave up and was absorbed by its strongest neighbor.

The old man, now close to death, walked the barely recognizable street. He confronted his former countrymen, whose Red and Blue uniforms were now in tatters and indistinguishable. He asked, “How did this happen?” But no one listened.


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