I’m still here…

10466769_10203299197814406_618249123_nDear Readers, I have not abandoned my blog, but it does appear that way, doesn’t it? This summer has kept me busy in all sorts of good ways. Deciding to opt for more more prayer, family and friends time, sleep, time outdoors, reading, gardening, sneaking in some Netflix , even more family and friends time. I’ve also been working on some side projects that have taken my time. Plus we had 3 high school graduations in our extended family, including our own daughter, and her high school graduation as well. It is no  wonder that this poor blog has temporarily fallen into disuse.

My hope is that you are enjoying these days as well and not really noticing that I’m not here much right now. I will return and I hope that you will also! How has your summer been? Vacations? Books? Gardening? Movies? Let me know in the comments!

Peace to all.

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Jersey Shore – The There Will Be Bread Edition

What a fine week of vacation we had, in Ocean City, New Jersey. *sigh* We love Ocean City, for many reasons.

Ocean City has an interesting history, which you can read about here. Part of the history is that it was meant to be a Christian resort. As a result, Ocean City remains a dry town to this day. While I like wine with my bread, at church and at home, I am perfectly happy to stay in this liquor-store-free town. The net result of this is that unlike Seaside Heights, now infamous because of the MTV program, (*insert eyeroll here*) “Jersey Shore,” the OC boardwalk is devoid of rowdy bars and dance clubs, tattoo parlors and other such.

Now living the life I have lived, trust me – I have enjoyed my fair share of rowdy bars and dance clubs, including ones in Seaside Heights, when I was younger. At this point in my life, I am happy for a different chapter however and OC fits the bill.

Our vacation started, as many of you already know via Facebook, with a bang. As we were sitting at the traffic light that is at the entry to the island, we were rear ended. Poor Prius has had its rear end kicked, but at least it was not by Snooki! Actually, it was a teenager who hit us – a sweet kid, completely without guile who couldn’t stop saying “I’m sorry!” and “It was all my fault!” No one was hurt and cars can be fixed and our vacation proceeded without issue after that.

I had visions of writing a lot – blog posts as well as the kind of writing I long to do more of, which may or may not be published elsewhere someday. No such thing happened. There was no wi-fi (although a lurker friend on Facebook, you know who you are!) gave me a hard time about all my Facebook updates, which were mostly photos of the beach.

No – I did not write, but I walked, 5 to 8 miles each day, along the beach. It was heaven and then some. I did not stick with WW completely, but I was not crazy either; I did gain one pound back, but that is a far cry from my typical “I’m-off-the-plan-so-let’s-go-food-crazy.” That is very different for me. I did have a second slice of Mack and Manco pizza… I admit that that was hot-melty-cheesy-crispy bliss and worth every bite… The best pizza ever and I say that as a New Yorker talking about New Jersey pizza.

And I slept… and slept. That was a real joy, I can promise you. I also got to see my friend Donna Marie many times; she lives nearby. That was a real joy too! I also got to see Donna’s friend Sister Connie, RGS, who I had not seen since 1994 or 95! That was fun because Connie is an extrovert’s extrovert and I say that as a pretty extroverted extrovert! I was walking into a shop one day and I have no clue how she saw me, but from a dining terrace next door (she had to have corner-turning-vision but I did not ask) Connie came flying into the store to say hello! I ended up sittting down with her and Sister Anita as they ate their lunch.

(we went to Atlantic City with Donna Marie, her husband and her mom; this is at Caesar’s)

The best part of the vacation was spending so much time with Mark and Erica. While a 53 year old woman and her 15 year old stepdaughter are like some kind of off-the-charts hormonal bookends, just ask poor Mark about that, we do have a great relationship for which I thank God every day.

We went to the beach every day, we jumped in the waves and I was reminded of an 8 year old girl who loved the waves with wild abandon and inexplicably instantaneously loved me too, as I jumped in those waves with her, in Rhode Island not-so-many-years-ago.

Erica and I in 2006, another beach, another vacation.
And here we were in Ocean City, just last week.

Mark and I would take a walk on the beach every day and we both relished the amount of unfettered quiet time together. It was great and I felt myself humbled beyond imagination that God should have brought us back together in this way.

One of my favorite moments together was when we rode the ferris wheel, just the two of us, on the last night. (The ferris wheel makes Erica roll her eyes… too slow!)

Mark and Erica played their nightly game of air hockey at the arcade, a longtime tradition. I admit I loved seeing her win! They also played endless rounds of paddleball on the beach, a game that is more lost on me than the air hockey!

All in all it was a beautiful journey. There were – as there always are – hard moments. Anger, tears, frustration and the like, but there was also happiness, tranquility, joy and unity in ways that we don’t see enough of, in general.

So no blog posts or chapters were written, although I sent postcards to everyone who asked for one. However, not unlike bread, ingredients were added, things will rise and will be consumed. It is in that consumption, counter-intuitively, that  more is given than is taken, more is offered than is consumed and that is how we become One.

And that is why there will always be bread for me. Even – in fact, especially – in the Jersey Shore edition.

Vignettes As I Am Sustained By Friendship, Love, Caffeine and Grace. Mostly Grace.

I write this post from Wilson UHS Hospital in Johnson City, NY. My sister-in-law, Olga Szpylczyn (Mark’s sister) is asleep in the bed a few feet away from me. At her side I can see various containers that collect bodily fluids. At least one of them, connected to a tube that goes into her chest, is not pretty. The changing texture and color of that bag makes me want to scream. If I could scream, I would simply repeat the words, “Stupid effing cancer, I hate you and your ugly magic.”

One of my tasks is to find a home for Skittles, Olga’s Jack Russell Terrier. Skittles is 8 and very cute, but she is also a Jack Russell Terrier. Read: She is highly energetic. In the good days, she had Olga out and walking, getting regular exercise. When Olga had her first bout with the stupid cancer in 2009, she wanted Skittles to go. I persuaded her otherwise and she was later grateful. That dog helped fuel a recovery.

Now I know that persuasion has no point. If you live within 3 hours of Albany or Binghamton and you even remotely think that you know someone who would consider this dog, it would be a mercy that is much required.

Olga was very interested in being an organ donor. She has that kind of civic responsibility gene, the desire to do the right thing. The other day, when she was much more coherent, she suddenly looked at me and in her inimitable style she said, “The organ donor paperwork!” I was startled… She simply said, “Well, I don’t think so!” And then laughed a wry laugh. I joined her, sometimes laughter is the only way.

The other day Olga fell into a deep sleep at about 5:30pm and remained in that deep sleep. At the same time, she also began talking in her sleep. Talking in what turned out to be A REALLY LOUD VOICE. And her talking did not cease, and I mean, it did not cease for about 16 hours. It was crazy, seriously.

What did she say? She spoke in Ukrainian, her native tongue. (Or as Mark aptly puts it, the Ukrainian spoken by people who live in Ukraine and are aged 85 and older!) She said most things in English and a lot of it was gibberish.

At one point she said very clearly, “Wait til Christmas, they’ll miss me alright, they’ll miss me and my gifts!” I cried. And not because of the gifts.

In another bout of sleeptalking, Olga began to speak in what I remain fairly sure was Latin. Now Olga does not speak Latin. I don’t either, but I am pretty sure that this was Latin. She went on at length, then paused and began to pray the Our Father in English. It was very strange.

On Monday night I had a call from Olga’s friend Doris, this was about 8:30pm. I had spoken to her surgeon earlier in the day and he had confirmed the utter gravity of the situation to me. Doris called because Olga had called her at home, they both live in Binghamton, and wanted Doris there, stat.

Why? Because she was afraid.

You’d have to know Olga, but this was far from standard operating procedure for this strong and proud woman.

It scared me enough to call the hospital. The nurse put Olga on the phone and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that she was scared and wanted Doris to come. I asked her if I should come too and without any hesitation she said, “Yes, come right now!” Within 10 minutes, amidst me grabbing a toothbrush and some undies, with Mark, Erica and I all in tears, I was out the door and in the car. It is a journey that I will never regret.

This is all so hard on Mark by the way, truly hard on him in so many ways. Please, please pray for him most of all. Olga is ready to go to God whenever God is ready for her. Erica has more grit than anyone ever realizes and while she is in pain, she will be OK.

Olga and Mark’s parents came here from Ukraine and there are no other living relatives, so this carries a heavy burden for him. Olga was at once older sister (by 10 years) and a bit of a maternal figure too. He is really hurting.

It is an awesome and terrible thing to be asked to hold someone’s hand, literally and figuratively. It is actually the greatest privilege in life if you ask me, albeit a painful, painful privilege.

Olga and I have had a challenging relationship. We are both very strong willed and opinionated. I’d like to think that over time we wore each other down in the best ways, with our sharp edges getting softer and rounder, like sea glass after a good pounding in the surf.

So to have her ask me to undertake this role is a true gift. I pray that I carry out her wishes accordingly and that I am here to hold her hand and either talk or remain silent, as needed.

The whole “it takes a village” concept is not lost on me. I could not be doing this without the love and support of so many people. From people I know in real life to people that I know from blogging and Facebook, I am awash in tremendous kindness.

As I have said many times these days, I am sustained by friendship, love, caffeine and grace.

Mostly grace.

Thank you all for your friendship and support.

More to follow.

PS – The staff of this hospital is great. I am particularly grateful for the nurses of Tower 4 South… they are amazing, shining stars in the dark, dark, night. 

Father’s Day

Father’s Day is not a day that elicits a lot of feeling and emotion for me… Well that’s a lie!  While I believe that I have reconciled myself and my feelings about my father and our life together, I still have a tremendous amount of ambivalence. Ambivalence may seem to indicate no feelings or emotion, I think it reveals a ton of feelings and emotion. Just the kind that is hard to own or enter into.

My father, Paul Rossi,  was both the person who made my whole world and the one who destroyed it. He was a blazing figure of a man. Physically he was short and stout, attributes that I have inherited from him. He had many physical ailments… high blood pressure, ulcers, heart problems. He died of a stroke at the age of 50 in 1970, two weeks before my 13th birthday. I have, seemingly, so far not inherited those problems, thanks be to God. And I am 52 now, so my fear of dying at 50 has passed. More thanks be to God!

It is from my father that I have my extroverted personality, my intense intellectual curiosity and – if I might add (more God thanks here) the intellect to go with it. In addition, although my father was born a Jew and raised as a Jew, he embraced a Roman Catholicism that would not allow a twice divorced man like himself to enter. He was the driving force behind our attendance at and involvement in our tiny and wonderful parish. Like my father, that parish no longer exists, but the fires of both blaze on in my own heart, albeit with a delayed start. My father had a tremendous interest in spirituality and religion – clearly that has been passed on as I have studied and continue to study all faiths.

My father was broken and sexually wounded I imagine, as a child. He directly passed that on to me. Strangely enough, when viewed through the current lens of healing and grace, that too – jagged edged and fetid stench of the past included – are also gifts. Go figure. And with even more gratitude I can say that the chain broke with me on the wounding of others.

My husband is the best father I know. When we re-met (for those of you newer to these pages, we dated in college) in 2004, I was touched by, although not at all surprised with, his devotion to his daughter, Erica.  She adores Mark and and it is a grace to be a part of this family. Early on in our relationship, some friends cautioned that a man so devoted to his daughter and vice-versa might make for a hard situation.

It is anything but… We are truly blessed around here, we three.

That is healing as well, because my own dad, in his extreme dysfunction and brokenness, divided my mother and me. He triangulated in a way to keep my mother and I off balance so that he would always be the focus of our attention… in ways that meant that we would never band against him.

It should not be a surprise that I learned and used this behavior myself, most often unconsciously, and had to unlearn it as I began to heal.

In this house, we balance three really well – in ways that point powerfully to grace and conscious practice.

I think of who my father might have become had he lived longer. Would he have been better or worse? Would he have healed? Would he have hurt more? We will never know. I do believe in redemption and forgiveness, radically so… As a result, I believe that my father is held tightly in the embrace of God. 

Happy Father’s Day to one and all. It is a day that grows upon me as my life continues to blossom.

A Long and Winding Pentecost Story… Update

I had hoped to finish up today, but that is not going to happen…  Today I have to go out of town for a confirmation of all things! How very Pentecost-y! In any case, I am very privileged to be the sponsor for my niece today, so off I go.

In the meantime, here is a Taize video of Veni Sancte Spiritus. Come, Holy Spirit, come. Heal, console, inform, love, reconcile, enlighten, transform us all.

A Long and Winding Pentecost Story… Part 2

So where was I? Oh yes… I was about to meet my cousins for the first time. This was a journey that would change my life.

A word about my life – as I said in the first installment. I hated my job but loved most of the people I worked with. As I was mired in debt and lost as to what my life calling was, I felt trapped. It did not seem like I could leave my job… I did not have a clue at what I wanted to do and I felt terrified about changing it or trying something else. Even though I was an executive with a good position, I did not feel competent to do much.

My depression was lurking, untreated and largely unnoticed. I just wrote a comment on another blog in which I said:
I recall days when I felt like I was walking around with a tunnel or a tube around me. I could essentially hear and see the world around me and even interact with it, but the whir of my own despair was a constant hum that created some distance. My depression was lived out in an entirely highly functional life.

It was May of 1995 and at that time my former employer still had what they called “Service Award Dinners.” These events were to congratulate employees on length of service; you would get a pin and people would say nice things about you. Oh yes, it was hokey, but it was also kind of nice. Those days are so long gone. That may have been one of the last ones actually.

One of my employees in the Chicago office, a woman who had helped me find some courage and integrity at one point, was getting her five year pin. I flew out to Chicago on Friday afternoon for the Friday night event. I couldn’t tell what I hated more – my job or myself.

Off we went to the dinner and I endured it as waves of anger and self-pity alternated washing over me. Don’t get me wrong, I really cared for this particular employee but I hated this dinner. One woman was getting a 45 year award. I thought to myself, “Oh God, kill me before that happens!”

The saving grace of the whole thing is that I was going to wake up on Saturday and take a train to Harvard, Illinois. There, my cousins, those prairie Jews from Rockford, would pick me up and we would finally be together. It kept me afloat.

On Saturday morning I ran over to the big Crate&Barrel store on Michigan Avenue to buy my cousins a gift. It was such a big, shiny, bright and beautiful store filled with bright,shiny and beautiful people working there.

And they all seemed… so happy. It was as if I were a hound a a scent had crossed my path! Happiness… Nose down and focused I looked all around me… Pillows, table ware, kitchen goods, vases and all sorts of lovely things! Wine glasses! Pitchers! Platters! Planters! And all the nice happy people who were selling them!

It hit me… A Crate&Barrel was about to open in White Plains, where I lived at the time. No… I couldn’t possibly.

Oh. Yes. I. Could.

Would I really embark on a career there?

No more time to consider that, I had to rush to make my train now after dawdling among the shiny objects of C&B. I got on my train, nervous and excited to meet my cousins.  And I spent the better part of the ride, watching Chicago yield to suburbia which became farmland and dreaming of life in a black and white apron, with the best accessory of all.

A smile.

To be continued…

A Long and Winding Pentecost Story…

The spring of 1995 could qualify as one of the lowest points of my life. I had a job that I hated and that left me frustrated, I was deeply in debt and in so many ways, did not feel at home in my own skin.

Mostly I felt trapped. For all the time that I spent thrashing about, I would always be reminded that the shackles around my ankles remained locked.  Little did I know that the key was always at hand.

While I hated my job, I must say that I loved the people that worked for me. I remain friendly with many of them and thanks to Facebook, can keep up with whatever is going on in their lives. They were a balm to my spirit and encouraged me greatly, but there was no denying that I was a square peg in a round hole.

At that time I had been in touch via good old US Postal Service mail with my cousins, who I did not really know well at that time. When my mother died in September of 1991, my cousin Jeff reached out to me and his first correspondence changed all of our lives.

It is really something to look back to a time, not so long ago, when pen would make contact with paper and ink would flow and a kind of correspondence that we see less and less of, would make its way between people. Pen and paper letters do make for more thoughtful and reflective interchanges than what we see out here in the intertubes.

Jeff was (well technically still is!) a reform rabbi and at that time was at Temple Beth-El, in Rockford, Illinois. Now you are correct if you are thinking that this was not the most Jewish place in the world, but you would also be surprised how many Jews there were in Rockford and the surrounding areas. Jeff’s considerable skills as a rabbi and religious reader helped to build a good sized congregation.

Jeff’s wife Stephanie and two sons, James and Josh were as yet unknown to me, only through these letters. And in fact, to say I “knew” Jeff would be a stretch as I only remembered vaguely one childhood interchange.

In any case, our letters from late 1991 to 1995 had brought us closer together and I did long to meet Jeff and his family one day. Ah – letters, the pre-email and facebook days!

Our chance to meet was about to emerge and with it, a major life change for me.

And yes – there is a Pentecost element to all of this, as unlikely as it may seem.

To be continued..

A Rose Among The Thorns – A Story of Life

How unlikely it all was. She was 43 when she gave birth to her daughter in November of 1957.  When she missed her period and then missed another, she chalked it up to menopause. Then another and another. Things were not really storybook like, unless you think storybook like means a sad story.

There were the things done to her – the love of her husband that was so often and tragically expressed by furious anger, verbal assaults, physical release of all sort.

There were the things she did to herself – the chain smoking, the black coffee from 7am to about noon, followed by the pffft-pop of that first can of beer opened  at 12:01 and that continued to sound off, every hour or so during the day. Terms and conditions like lactose-intolerant had not yet been discovered so she just avoided any dairy, food that made her so sick. Food for her meant buttered white bread, canned peas and pieces of meat so overcooked as to be inedible. And man – could she swear like a trooper! 

At about 5 months, the bulging tummy indicated that this might be more than menopause, so a doctor’s appointment was scheduled. Imagine everyone’s shock and surprise when they found out that a baby was well on the way. A baby thus far not really cared for or prepared for.

Now what?

It is not beyond the boundaries of imagination that termination of such a pregnancy was considered despite the legality of such an act and the morality, of course. I am not sure that it was the latter that drove this, more the former if there was even a conversation. I can’t imagine, knowing all the characters involved in this story, I can’t imagine that it did not pass through at least one of their minds.

Some way, some how – so unlikely, but then God is always very unlikely in how God acts and chooses – a baby was born at 9:42am on that second Tuesday of November.  She bore a remarkably healthy and vibrant girl, weighing in at 6 pounds, 14 ounces. Not bad when you factor in the pre-natal care, conditions and so forth.

She brought her baby home and thus began another thread of life in this most unlikely of families, a most unlikely baby to a truly unlikely mother.

The mother was truly a rose among the thorns, but she was a rose indeed, ever blooming, albeit it tragically so much of the time.

That was my mother, Rose Rossi. This is my 19th Mother’s Day without her. I cry at this one as I have cried at all the others. Despite all the unlikely and so often unhappy things I bring up, my life is a testament to a woman who endured much and who in her own way, gave her life for me.

I love you mama, I love you.

It’s A Beautiful Day!

This day marks so many things. They all point to joy. They all cause me to feel gratitude beyond imaging. 

Talk about a sacramental marriage… This is all about marrying a person, a family, a parish, a community, a world.

There is so much to be grateful for… It is all gift. Mark, Erica, Gracie, Boo-boo, my friends and neighbors, my new career – such as it is. All gift. All joy. All. It is also all so unlikely.

And yet – Here. We. Are.