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God, Rabbis and Hummingbirds

Went to temple last night. Rabbi Mike was conducting the first session of Taste of Judaism. I was half there. The other half was somewhere else.

I was invited to Sheila’s home for dinner before the class. Met Jeff who lost his wife six years ago. Sheila lost her son before that. So here we were, comrades in arms. Sheila is such a good cook and an even better host. As big as a minute and a veritable ball of energy, she never turns down an opportunity to do good.

Despite our common grief, we spent little time dwelling on it. For me, and maybe for them, the subject hung in the air begging to be let out of the shadows. Like India Ink, forever permanent.

Dinner over, we went to the temple. My first exposure to a crowd of people since the funeral. Some knew of my loss and stepped forward to greet me with hugs, warm kisses and kind words. Others did not know me, much less my grief. I wanted to make an announcement. “I’m Fred and I lost the love of my life two weeks ago. I’m in need of your attention.” Feeling selfish and needy was not warm and fuzzy. But there it was, something unshakable.

Rabbi Mike asked each of us to introduce ourselves and share our reasons for being there. I resisted the urge to say something like “My wife died two weeks ago and I just felt that I wanted to be among you.” So I said something else, truthful but not satisfying.

This first class in the series was devoted to the concept of God. On previous occasions I had been exposed to the Rabbi’s thoughts on the subject. How the creation of the world and everything in it could not have been random occurrences. How morality could not exist without a framework that defined right and wrong. And how belief in God did not require a definition of the term but merely a leap of faith. Not a micromanager, God relies upon us to do good and help others.

The best part of the ninety minutes was sharing in the delight that Rabbi Mike expressed as he taught us the things he held dear. It was in the smile on his face, the energy as he waved his arms, jumped from his chair and made finger shadows on the wall. A man like this was not to be denied.

I don’t know if there is a God but with Ila’s passing it is a comforting concept. I’ve been spending late afternoons on the patio, watching the shadows spread over Ila’s garden. Occasionally the quail family will hop up on the low wall surrounding the garden. They march to and fro putting on a display that I believe has been choreographed just for me.

To the left is a veritable field of native fuchsia filled with bright red blossoms that should have long ago dried and fallen from the spindly arms of the plants. But they seem ageless and are visited daily by hummingbirds. They dart through the air like rockets, appearing to be in competition with their kind. Pausing only briefly at the nectar filled blossoms, they leave the fuchsia only to return in a display of aerial prowess. On occasion, they will hover close to me as they contemplate their next move.

I’ve adopted the belief that one of those hummingbirds is endowed with some of Ila’s essence. I’m not sure which bird it is but it doesn’t matter. It’s enough that I believe it.

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It’s hard

It’s hard remembering the good times. I seem stuck on the bad ones. The awfulness of the disease and the things that it did to her.

I wander through the house looking for something to do. How many times can I do laundry? I turn on Spotify to fill the silence but it fails to quiet my mind. I walk past the condolence cards set up on the island in the kitchen and think about the kind words spoken by the senders.

All the cards are meaningful and every one of them has some special thought penned by the sender. Some are quite beautifully written and others not so much but equally welcomed. There was an outpouring of cards a week ago but now they sort of appear randomly. Like everything else in life, things seem to return to normal and other events take the place of those that fade.

I don’t feel like doing much. No, that’s not entirely true. I think if someone called right now and said “meet me at the coffee shop”, I’d go. The house is big and no human sound emanates from its walls. I’ve tried the sofa near the TV, the chair in front of the fireplace, the wobbly chair in the sun room and that little couch in the bedroom where Ila would sit trying to tie her shoes. It’s an uncomfortable couch but we spent a lot of time on it talking, arguing and holding hands.

And then Lisa called. She and Hal wanted to take me on a field trip. Field trip? They arrived, I got my dorky hat and a bottle of water. Got into their car, drove down the hill and five minutes later we were at the Aaronson horse ranch. Short field trip, I thought.

I’m not a big fan of horses. They always seem to eat the wrong things, stand around clueless in the hot sun, and spend an inordinate amount of time with the vet. But I figured any port in a storm. I followed Lisa to her horse’s enclosure and watched her reinforce an already unbreakable bond with the animal. I did the usual carrot offering and watched as the mare picked daintily at the straw.

I met Al. Interesting guy. Must be as old or older than me yet he moves with the quickness of a cat, tends to the many horses housed at the ranch and comes complete with a history that he shares with anyone willing to listen. He told me about Joel’s first wife, Edith, who passed away years ago. It helped me with my own grief.

We visited some of the horses, and met some horse people (who are unique and thoroughly into loving and caring for their animals.) I was tiring and was ready to go home. But Lisa said “Would you like to meet St. Angelica. She’s pregnant.” I thought, ok one more and then home.

I was alone at the fenced enclosure. A very pretty Angelica came to me but didn’t seem to be looking for food. I stroked her face and scratched behind her ears. She lowered her head and lightly nibbled on my shoe. She rested her warm head on my shoulder. I talked to her, not horse talk but people talk. “Is that you, Ila? Are you reminding me of how you used to tie your shoes?” A silly thing maybe but at that moment I felt warm and happy. I was close to my sweetheart. I could have stood there forever. But Angelica had other things to do, walked away, and left me with a lasting memory.

Sweetie Died

My one and only Sweetie died last week. She wrestled with Alzheimer’s for seven years and it finally took its toll.

It’s like peeling an onion. The first piece is your short-term memory. You will ask the same question over and over. Next comes a jumble of long-term memories. We’ll remove your ability to enjoy music, movies and live entertainment. Crowds will be your adversary. Your appetite will diminish and you will forget how to use a knife and fork. Your sweetheart will cut your food into bite size pieces. You’ll eat a lot of chocolate ice cream but not much else.

We’ll make dressing yourself a chore that takes more precious time away from living. You will forget how to tie your shoes. Along the way we’ll even add a few things, like headaches and pain. Or wild dreams that cause you to sit upright in bed and yell at the dark intruders. You’ll constantly repeat the same stories and create ones that are more fantasy than fact. You will visit the hospital ER several times and stay in the hospital some nights where you’ll rail against being there.

We’ll make you think you live someplace else other than your home. And wonder if your parents are still alive and do they know where you live. People will arrive who want to take care of you but you’ll swear at them and tell them to get the hell out of here or you’ll call the police. Your sweetheart will try to cope but he will feel much of your pain and anguish. Your sole entertainment will be getting in the car, driving into town, turning around and going home. Getting out of the car in your garage and walking to the house will become a terrible adventure.

Your sweetheart will turn his back for an instant and you will fall in the bathroom. And then you will fall a few more times. He will call the fire department to come and lift you from the floor, and you will tell them to mind their own business. You will finally get to bed, the paramedics will leave and he will wait for it to happen all over again.

You’ll sleep a lot on the chair in the sun room, the soft one in front of the fireplace and the couch in front of the TV. In a lucid moment, you’ll sit on the edge of the couch and say “I can’t do this anymore.”

Eventually you’ll have a caregiver because your sweetheart is exhausted. The hospice nurses will visit every day. They will bring a hospital bed, a walker, a wheelchair and other things that you thought you would never need. They will know things about life and death that only come from doing it over and over again.

You’ll fall asleep for days. Then, without warning, you will be gone. And your sweetheart will feel his heart bursting from his chest. And he will be alone for the first time in fifty-seven years.

And everything will remind him of you. He will fill his time by crying. And he will love you more than ever.

I’ll just let it explode

So what if the bridges are desperately in need of repair. I told them we would fix them if they named half of them after me and the other half after Yvanka. But they told me that wasn’t acceptable. So I’ll eliminate all the funding and wait until they start collapsing over the Mississippi River. Then they’ll come running to me to accept my deal.

Climate change is a fairy tale. But, ok, I told them I’d fund half of the needs of the National Institute of Health if they’d lift all the restrictions on coal mining and waive any claims made by miners with Black Lung disease. But they said that was cruel and unusual punishment. So I’ll eliminate all the NIH funding and wait until a tsunami hits New York. Then they’ll come running to me to accept my deal.

Obamacare will explode and the Democrats will own it. I offered them a deal where 24 million people would lose their healthcare coverage while the rich would get a hefty tax reduction. And they told me to stick it where the sun don’t shine. So I’ll just sit on my hands, do nothing to fix the problem and just wait until the current law of the land destructs. Then they’ll come running to me and bend to my will.

Which one of those three scenarios is the truth?

Can you imagine the president of a Fortune Five Hundred company who’d refuse to make product improvements while thousands of his customers were being injured by his defective but fixable product? Of course you can.

Can you believe that the President of the United States would sabotage a law that he had sworn to uphold? Just because it wasn’t his own law. Of course you can.

The president takes an oath. “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Clause 5 of the Constitution specifies that the president “must take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”   President George Washington interpreted this clause as imposing on him a unique duty to ensure the execution of federal law. Discussing a tax rebellion, Washington observed, “it is my duty to see the Laws executed: to permit them to be trampled upon with impunity would be repugnant to [that duty.]

But then, our current president hasn’t read the Constitution.

ReDemrocans

It was reliably reported this morning that Donald Trump has personally contacted Hillary Clinton to offer her a deal.

Smarting from what he perceives to be an unfair advantage gained by the Democrats at their Philadelphia convention, Mr. Trump believes that his only chance to make it to the Oval Office is to team up with Secretary Clinton. The details of the deal offered by Mr. Trump are sketchy but they are believed to include the following:

Both Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton would run together as “ReDemrocans”.

Following their victory in November, they would become “Co-Presidents” jointly occupying the White House. Due to the crowded quarters, the vice-presidency would be abolished.

Presidential decisions would be made by Mr. Trump on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Secretary Clinton would assume that responsibility on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. No decisions would be made or actions taken on Sundays.

Secretary Clinton is free to appoint her own cabinet. Mr. Trump does not want a cabinet.

Congress would be equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. The current imbalance will be resolved by coin flips. Future congressional elections will be unnecessary. Vacated positions would be filled by one or the other Co-President depending on the day of the week that the vacancy occurred. Ditto for the Supreme Court.

In the event that one of the Co-Presidents should die in office, the remaining Co-President will commit suicide.  The country can then figure out what to do after that.

When contacted by Fox News about the deal, Mr. Trump denied any knowledge of it and blamed Chelsea Clinton for leaking the story. “It must be her time of the month” he said.

Simple Pleasures

Did you ever listen to friends describe their latest adventures?

“Uzbekistan was amazing. So many things to see. The people were great. Can’t wait to do it again.”

“Our trip to New York was mind-blowing. Had to book tickets to Hamilton two years in advance…worth every penny. You should go.”

“The Falkland Islands were one of the top five events in my life. I’ll never forget the sheep in the road. Weather was perfect. Never knew there were so many ways to prepare mutton.”

Time was that I would think “Why aren’t I doing things like this?  I must be missing out on life.”

Probably so.

But things being what they are, Sweetie and I tend to find pleasure in simpler things. Things that don’t involve shleps to the airport, uncomfortable plane seats, annoying children and rude adults.

Like yesterday.

The library foundation bookstore is closing for a major rebuild. We wanted to sell lots of books so that we could avoid moving them to temporary storage while we build the new structure.  We volunteered for the 2:30 shift and arrived to find very little activity. One or two customers, much like a normal day. So since we weren’t really needed, we excused ourselves and went for a walk.

One of our favorite places is Rains department store. A venerable institution serving the community for over a hundred years. Weekends are pretty busy in the store but on most weekdays you can call the store your own. We hardly ever leave without buying something. Sort of like freshly marking our territory.

There’s a wooden bench just off the main aisle in the women’s department. I’m sure it’s intended to allow the ladies to sit and try on the shoes that are cloistered in the area around the bench. It looks uncomfortable but the bench’s shape sort of matches my fanny so I can sit for a while before I develop calluses or bone spurs. We often alight on that bench and stare at the dozen or so women’s shoes that beckon to be tried on.

Spending thirty minutes or so sitting on a wood bench in Rains’ shoe department may not sound very exciting. And it’s not. So to lighten things up, we sometimes pretend that we are on a cruise. At other times we pretend that we are waiting for a city bus to come rolling down the department store aisle. In either case, we must look odd to the sales people and to the customers. But, being old, most observers simply assume we’ve got nothing better to do and ignore us.

Yesterday was special, though. I began staring at the array of shoe boxes stacked directly ahead of me.  About thirty of them in about six stacks.  All the same brand. I zeroed in on the 3×5 stickers glued to the end of each box that announced the style number and shoe size of the contents. I wondered “Are all those labels glued to the box by hand or is there some clever piece of machinery that does it?” I compared the placement of each label and the amount of empty space surrounding each. My suspicion was that they were hand applied. But I couldn’t be certain. So I asked Sweetie for her wise counsel. Recognizing a unique opportunity, she smiled and immediately bought into the adventure. Carefully eyeballing the boxes and measuring her response, she said that she was certain beyond a reasonable doubt that a machine was doing the deed. Good enough for me.

Having some time remaining in our busy schedule, I then focused on the boxes themselves. I was surprised that each shoe size seemed to have a box whose dimensions were tailored to the size of the contents. What a revelation! Sweetie was not nearly as excited as me since she claimed to already be aware of the shoe box size protocol. Probably because she has more shoes than I do.

So there you are. A relatively inexpensive adventure that did not require a plane trip, questionable accommodations, tickets bought two years in advance, or the need to learn a foreign language.

Now won’t that be an amazing story to tell our friends when they return from the Galapagos?

Stick me up!

Watching the circus run in the House by ringmaster Boehner, I was reminded of the Mel Brooks movie, Blazing Saddles.

The basic plotline of the movie is that a bunch of villains want to get rid of the citizens of Rock Ridge so that the chief bad guy played by Harvey Korman can take over the town’s land through which the railroad wants a right of way.  Harvey sends in a gang of thugs which prompts the townsfolk to plead with the governor, played by Mel Brooks, to send a new sheriff to save their hides.

Harvey convinces Mel to pick Bart, played by the black actor Cleavon Little, a railroad worker about to be hanged, as the new sheriff in the hope that the blatantly racist townsfolk, all named Johnson,  will either abandon the town or lynch the new sheriff.

Arriving in town, Cleavon is confronted by an angry mob who he holds at bay as he points his own gun at his head and threatens to “kill the sheriff” if they don’t back off.  The seriously mentally disadvantaged townsfolk give up.

Speaker Boehner, a big fan of the movie, has apparently taken its message to heart as he hurtles through the corridors of Congress pointing a loaded gun at his own head hoping that this will bring his Tea Party inspired colleagues to heel.

What should have turned out to be a no-brainer for the party in charge has instead become a Punch and Judy show replete with pratfalls and nonsense.  I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t enjoying the performance. As an extra added attraction, Boehner has upped the ante by inviting the always delightful Bibi Netanyahu to rally the troops with stories of death and destruction while embarrassing the black guy in the Oval Office.

Boehner, during his extended time in the tanning booth, could and probably did conjure up a reasonable going forward scenario following the GOP’s crushing November victory.  Something like “we won’t shut down the government again…we’ll show the townsfolk that we can manage things…we’ll keep the heat on the black guy…we’ll take over the town in two years…and then we can do whatever we want.”

In other words, create a humble, helping and kindly diversion for two years and wait for the ultimate goal to be realized…replacing the black guy with a white one who looks and talks like a real American.  One who loves America.  Really.

Sort of like what Cleavon did in the movie. In order to misguide the villains, the sheriff creates a fake Rock Ridge, complete with replica dummies of the townsfolk. And to delay the villains arrival, he installs a toll booth on the road to the faux town that the villains need to get through. Arriving at the booth they stop and send someone back to “Get a shitload of dimes”, as the villains have neither the change to go through it, nor enough common sense to simply ride around it. Stupidity costs them as they are easily defeated just short of ultimate victory.

I can’t wait to see the sequel.

Cleavon Little


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