Green Curry for Christmas (reprinted from Medium.com)

I’m Christmas-ing in Thailand this year, and it’s a relief to be away from what Americans call holiday cheer. At the risk of being accused of crusading against Christmas, I find the holiday, as it has evolved in the US, to be gruesome and overbearing. The real celebration for me is being removed from the ubiquity of obnoxiously perseverating Christmas song in every public space, omnipresent guilt-mongering in the guise of advertising, oppressive overlays of faux cheer, and incessant arguing over how to greet one another.

No one has stopped me in the street to say, “Merry, er, happy, er . . .” Few even know that there’s a holiday going on out there. In Bangkok, except for the occasional paean to the Capitalist Christmas in the form of a display of goods for sale and a few saliently out-of-place reminders, there are few Christmas accouterments at all. It’s like Calvin Trillin’s observation that Christmas in Tibet would be a “place where folks cannot remember/That there is something special in December”(“Christmas in Qatar,” The New Yorker, 19 December,1994).

Absent is the apparent outpouring of hyperbolic Christmas spirit. Even though this is a cosmopolitan city, with strong ties to the West, a large Christian presence, and a decidedly multi-cultural persona, including a huge contingent of expatriated Americans, Germans, Belgians, Russians, et al, one is hard pressed to find reminders that joy has suddenly descended on an otherwise morose world.

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Christmas Eve, Lumpini Park, and not a Santa Claus or Christmas elf in sight (Photo by Stockton)

Some might attribute the absence of Christmas to the fact that Bangkok is 2,000 miles closer to the equator than is New York City, and December is a very hot month. Every time I emerge from an air-conditioned space, I feel like Tom Hanks’ character in Volunteers, descending from his plane into this country. “My God,” he moans. “We must be about a mile from the sun!”

But having lived in the Arizona desert for many years and having spent a few holiday seasons in Florida, I know it’s not the climate that’s to blame. People dwelling in warm climes might pay some lip service to the fact that they can’t get into the Christmas spirit without snow, sultry wintry wind, and delectable fires burning in their family rooms’ fireplaces. But they’ve adapted. No matter what the climate, people who want to decorate for Christmas will find ever more elaborate ways to deck their cacti – or palm trees, boats or sand castles – with boughs of holly and whatever else they can think of to connote the season. In Thailand, however, the landscape is bereft of palm trees disguised as Tannenbaums, of neon MERRY CHRISTMAS signs twinkling out of store windows.

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Amazing. Not a single Monitor Lizard wearing antlers! (Stock photo)

But while there is no outpouring of zealotry for the trappings of Christmas, people here are eager to honor one another’s traditions. Among those people educated in the ways of The Other, there is a genuine attempt to honor the fact that some do celebrate a very important holiday on December 25.

In the lobby of my hotel the proprietors have chosen an mp3 loop to play endless celebrity covers of every Christmas song imaginable, and on the screen, a slide show of snow-covered New England and old England scenes that seem odd, out of context, dislocated. But the intent is sweet. Every staff member greets every western looking guest with a heart-felt “Merry Christmas.” But they don’t worry about offending me for not saying Happy Chanukah; they really are unaware that there is such a thing, and I would not expect it. I am touched that they wish me happy anything.

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Luckily, there are not a lot of Christmas displays in Bangkok, but they are not entirely absent. Photo by Stockton.

I doubt they’ll wish anyone a happy Kwanza, and certainly not because they are anti-Kwanza. There simply are no African-Americans staying here. Yet, I am sure that if there were or if a major Muslim holiday happened concurrently, they would be offering their best wishes with some customary acknowledgment, the equivalent of Merry Christmas. And when the time is right, they probably greet celebrants of Vesak or Diwali with appropriate greetings. There is no reluctance to call the day what it is, no fear of offending.

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The Chinese Pavilion in Lumpini Park, Bangkok, like the other temples and memorials, are devoid of Christmas accoutrements.

On Christmas Eve, in that same lobby, I returned from an outing to find banana muffins laid out on a table in front of a sign scrawled in a childlike cursive that said, “Free. Merry Christmas.” I smiled at the desk clerk and bowed with my hands together to show my gratitude in the Thai way. She grinned back at me, bowing and likewise holding her hands together, saying, “Christmas cake. Very good.”

I asked the clerk if she celebrates Christmas. “Oh, no,” she said. “New Year only.”

I have never been a fan of the flap over what to say in the holiday season. It’s absurd, at least. Christmas is a specific day, and on that day to say Merry Christmas seems totally appropriate, especially in our country, which has designated Christmas a national holiday. To wish Happy Holidays on that day, seems as absurd as wishing someone a Merry Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, when many holidays approach.

We could take a lesson from my hosts here in Bangkok. If we embrace each day and call it what it is, if we honor our collectivity by understanding that Happy Holidays is all-inclusive, we show our respect for one another, for the individual attributes that make each of us a person. We acknowledge our differences while accentuating our common humanness.

What can be bad about that?

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See Me, Brother*

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A brother stopped me on the street Saturday.

I was headed east, across 125th Street, toward the Metro-North station, waiting at the light on Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, when the man gently grabbed my arm and pointed me toward the group of Black Israelites handing out leaflets. On a milk crate, in the center of the group, a muscular young man dressed in a flamboyant imitation of the Biblical coat of many colors, shouted angrily into his amped-up mic.

“You really need to hear this,” my would-be Virgil whispered harshly without letting go of my arm.

It sounded like a threat. But I listened anyway. For as long as I could stand it.

“ Look around you, white man. See what you have done, you bitches and whores. These people are the sons and daughters of the slaves you persecuted. . . . you should feel ashamed. You should be consumed with guilt.”

Virgil stared at me and tightened his grip as I grunted and attempted to walk away.

“There is much to learn here, “ he insisted.

I nodded, and just as gently as he had grasped me, I pried his fingers off my arm and went on my way, shaking my head.

He was right. There was much to learn here, for all of us. But the lessons should not be about guilt. I could recite a litany of the myriad ways guilt has plagued me all my life, but guilt is irrelevant here. Except that I have learned all too well that guilt is destructive, and promoting guilt will do nothing to close the chasm that divides our union. To heal our country’s cancerous racism, we need to stand together, to learn to know one another, and guilt will only drive us further apart.

Besides, I am not guilty. I am responsible, yes. But my responsibility is to build cohesion, to encourage unity. I am not responsible for the actions of those who came long before me, reprehensible as they were. I am responsible to teach my students, to lead my grandchildren, to show my compatriots what I know about communion and cooperation. I eschew the condescension of tolerance, model equanimity. I care deeply that we humans treat one another with respect, kindness, empathy. But I am not to blame for those invading, marauding Europeans, who raped and ravaged Native and African Americans.

Since, to my knowledge, I wasn’t around in the bad old days of colonization, I hope that if some other iteration of myself was, she would have stood up against the forces of evil, would have argued for peaceful coexistence with the indigenous people, would have shared rather than stolen the land. And I hope that that earlier entity would have fought to abolish slavery, resisted the lynch mobs, fought for human rights, argued for true equality, made art or some contribution toward the effort to humanize — a notion nowhere near the same as to civilize — this country.

I am proud to say that my great-grandfather Hiram H. Terwilliger eagerly enlisted in the Union Army in 1861, long before the draft was imposed in 1863. He was already 27 by then, old enough to let younger men go ahead of him, and he was a Knickerbocker, a privileged member of the landed gentry with plenty of resources to buy a surrogate to serve for him. But he believed in the cause, abhorred slavery, had no patience for the abomination of white supremacy. He reenlisted after his first term and fought valiantly at the Second Battle of Bull Run, only allowing himself to be mustered out of service after he nearly died. In fact, old Hiram made medical history because of his foolhardy bravery. A minié ball split the bone of his left leg before it lodged itself on the outer side, and he kept fighting until, according to the surgeons who attended him, he was “struck again by a round bullet on the left side of his chest.” That bullet passed through him, grazing his lungs and liver, and left him miraculously in tact. Twice he was placed on the pile of corpses and would have been burned had he not groaned; he somehow managed to beat the odds by surviving yellow fever, sepsis and several surgeries without benefit of anesthesia, and then he returned to Ellenville, where, as a lay minister in his Dutch Reformed community, he preached for peaceful reconstruction and for universal voting rights till he died in 1920, at age 87.

While great Grandfather Terwilliger was fighting with Johnny Reb, my mother’s grandfathers, living in opposite corners of the Ukraine, were staving off Cossacks, defending their young sons from mandatory conscription and their daughters from molestation. To escape pogroms, both families migrated East to Poland’s Pale of Settlement. One of my great grandfathers was a rabbi, who stayed in Poland but sent both his male and female children to the university in Austria, and the other was an inn keeper, who dodged the Russians, rested in Warsaw, and eventually ran a hotel in Vienna. Surely neither of them or any of their forebears contributed to the travesty of early America.

I blanche whenever I hear myself called out for being White. I am no more responsible for the unfortunate accident of my color than is my black sister. I understand my privilege — though as a single woman nearing 70, who must work to survive, I have lost much of it — but am not ashamed. If anything, my color has made me more aware of what I can do, must do to eradicate intolerance. The color of my skin impels me to speak out, to rebuke hatred, to defend the rights of all. But it does not make me hang my head in embarrassment.

A student asked me last month if there could be such a thing as racism against whites. “If you hate me for the color of my skin,” I replied, “you are as racist as if I hate you for the color of yours. It’s that simple. Does that answer your question?”

How dare you, young man, make an assumption about me just because I am white? Would you not take offense were I to make an assumption about you just because you are dark? And what do you know about me? How do you presume to know my history? When I shake your hand, I have no preconceived notions. Why do you insist on harboring them as you refuse to shake mine?

We can work together to make police brutality go away, to promote equal rights and achieve the understanding that will stop the madness around us. But we can’t if you insist on labeling me and rejecting my sisterhood.

Truth is, you need me as much as I need you.

Those haters you think I’m one of? They have as much disdain for me as they do for you, and we can only beat them if we join hands and do it together.

*Reprinted from Medium.com

Cry the Beloved City

I didn’t sleep last night. For the fifth night in a row.

Since the end of June, my nights have been disrupted by neighbors whose disregard for others’ right to [quiet and to safety rule the streets. They are breaking the law, but no law blankets my neighborhood because the gated community that has become NYC sends its resources to patrol the blocks south of 96th, where the bulk of the tourists, who enable the ridiculous cost of membership, are cavorting. Up here even when you call the police, the eruptions go unchecked, and our nights go unquieted.

Those of us who are unfortunate enough to be captive in the city for the summer suffer this abuse through the month of July, but, for some reason, this Independence Day was more invasive, more intrusive, more unconscionable than ever before in the ten years I’ve lived here. The amateur blasting, the popping, the drunken shouting began before sundown and extended well into morning, waning only after the daylight had returned.

I admit that I’ve never much liked the July 4th rituals My idea of celebrating America is quieter; in an effort to refrain from becoming a statistic, I have typically stayed at home, where I have watched home movies of my family’s extensive cross-country explorations or documentaries about the bounties of natural beauty that define this amazing country.   Bombs bursting in air only fill me with dread, remind me that the country is populated by too many who worship weaponry, who perceive military might as right, who continue to craft an economy held hostage by the culture of war and its machinery.

But okay. I concede that fireworks can be lovely. And Macy’s foots the bill for the greatest show on earth. It’s free, and it’s close by, and I encourage all those who love the displays of color and light to seek them out. I heartily applaud my city for throwing such an elaborate, generous birthday bash.images

But the local ILLEGAL practices are a different story. It’s one thing if a group wants to throw a block party that provides a close-knit portion of the neighborhood to celebrate together. I can put up with noise for a few hours, and I am happy that people have a place to comingle. But to continue to make such noise that car alarms cannot be quieted, that keeps pets quaking and agitated, that robs us all of our right to our own preferred pursuit of happiness is no more than group solipsism, criminal entitlement. And it’s terrifying.

The awful disquiet went on throughout the night; the only sound missing was the sound of police cars or fire engines. The noises swelled, then subsided slightly, but they were never checked.

Sometime around 2 this morning, the sounds outside my window changed. Some of the changes were subtle, but they were apparent. The shouting was angrier, heightened a growing barrage of insults, name-calling, threats. The blasts sounded less like homemade duds and more like television violence. How can those of us who are subjected to the abuse discern the difference?

There will be no reports on the news – the news ignores us in Harlem until there is a great drug bust, and they can point to the confiscation of massive stashes to reassure the public that Harlem is under control. The news this morning reported fourteen shootings around the city, but not one was reported here in Harlem, where they happen all too often, where no one is really watching. I called 311 last night, and they told me I had to report my complaint to 911. The fireworks continued without interruption, the noise persisted unabated all through the night. The dispatcher was clearly amused by my report, but I was sure nothing would be done.

Why should there be? Who cares if some old and sick and very young Harlemites are kept awake by loud noises? Who really cares if some homes north of the tony Upper West Side are in danger of being burned, exploded, invaded in some way?

I have never felt so exposed as I did last night. I was as inconsolable as my daughter’s 6-pound Chihuahua, who seems, during this siege, perpetually on the verge of a stroke or worse. It feels like the demons out there, the ones the media won’t let us ignore or forget, are laughing themselves silly at how easy it must be to blend in up here, how simple it would be to hide their noise within the din that the city refuses to hear.

 

 

Eagles and Falcons and Hawks . . . oh My!

It was breathtaking. There I was, sitting on a bench at the top of Riverside Park conversing with a colleague, when the sky darkened , and a great swoosh of wings swept up a swirl of dust and leaves, and suddenly, we were in a scene from Jurassic Park. Or perhaps it was a post apocalyptic angel-of-death moment. Anyway, my heart stopped.  Any minute now, I thought, I’ll be grabbed by giant talons, carried away and gone in an instant.

I gathered my courage, looked up, and sure enough, there they were, directly overhead: two giant birds – great red-tail hawks – the larger in the lead, her wings stretching over four feet from tip to tip, her sharp claws pointing downward.

“Wow,” was all either of us could say as the birds flew away.

After a moment, when the wind had settled, and the sun had regained its prominence in the sky, was once more dappling the sidewalk through the leafy gobos, my friend sighed and said, “They’re all over the place all of a sudden. It’s amazing.”

I nodded. “It always surprises me that we are surprised. After all, reclamation is what nature does best.”

“But it feels like it’s happening all of a sudden. I mean, they’re taking over the parks. They didn’t used to be so commonplace, did then? Remember when everyone got excited about Pale Male and Lola, back in the late nineties?”

She was referring to a lone pair of hawks who famously chose a controversial nesting spot in a decorative neo-classical sculpture niche high atop a tony Fifth Avenue apartment house. Today Lola is long since dead, and Pale Male is twenty-four years old, a stalwart survivor, who has outlived at least eleven post-Lola mates, and he is no longer unique in the City. Which leaves city dwellers continually scratching their heads in wonder.

Or quaking in fear.

My daughter has an adopted apple head Chihuahua named Madhu. Though he is just simple enough to greet a falcon diving at him as a welcome invitation to play, he wouldn’t last long, as he weighs less than six pounds and would be easily transported to an urban aerie. My daughter, like her fellow small dog parents, will readily recount a tale, which may or may not be true, about a woman who was picnicking in a park near 125th Street when she looked up and saw a hawk carrying off a wailing, terrified Chihuahua. No protective screaming or rock throwing or batting away at the bird by the horrified pet’s family loosed the predator’s grip. They watched along with that woman and horrified onlookers as the great wings flapped, and the little dog’s pink leash, dangling from its already limp body, trailed off out of sight.

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Story from Out Walking the Dog, illustration by Charlotte Hildebrand

The woman is reported to have famously said, “I hate those birds, all birds of prey. If I had a rifle, I’d shoot them whenever I see them.”

Small pet people share this story with one another wherever they gather, warning one another to stay away from Riverside Park and Central Park and St. Nicholas Park and all the other parks in the city and to keep their guard up even on busy sidewalks – a small dog was nearly snatched from the sidewalk in midtown last week.  “What do you do if one attacks?” They ask each other, never sure there is a right answer.

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Madhu

Just yesterday, while walking with Madhu on our residential street, near the local elementary school, my daughter looked up in a tree and saw two hawks peering down. “I swear they were going to attack,” she averred. “I felt them staring.” She scooped Madhu into her arms and scurried home, grateful she had seen them in time.

Madhu notwithstanding, the birds are a miracle. Back in the 1980s, when populations of rats, pigeons and squirrels threatened to force humanity out of the city, poisons became ineffective in keeping populations down because the rapid evolution of the species enabled even more rapid mutations that rendered the rodents and pigeons impervious to the formulae. Birds of prey were introduced, but it was touch and go for a long time. Their sensitive systems were vulnerable to the potions their meals were ingesting, and because the poisons affected their abilities to reproduce, the birds’ evolution was slow.

Today the hunters are beginning to thrive. Not just hawks but also peregrine falcons, eagles, and other birds of prey. They are taking back the treetops, much the way coyotes and raccoons are taking back the bushes. Nature is reminding us she never went away, and we have to learn to live with all her creatures.

But being human, we don’t believe it. Or we choose to deny it. We expect, as we always have with all indigenous beings that we can tame them, bend them to our will,  round them up and put them in zoos and make them stay in their place. If they don’t, we can kill them. After all, we carry guns, and that gives us license to eliminate those we perceive as intruders.

But nature’s not lying down for us, and her minions are not waiting around to be eradicated. They are, like the restless people who are tired of being colonized, putting up a fight. They’re pushing back in small ways now, and perhaps they’ll lose in the short term. But in the long run, we lose by insisting on claiming superiority. Nature has a way of winning. Eventually.

If we kill off the birds here in New York City, we’ll be at the mercy of the disease and filth spread by the unchecked rodent and pigeon populations. We can kill them too, but they’re adaptable, and they will prevail; we stand to lose this island as we stand to lose the planet we have abused too long.

Ultimately, we are here at the mercy of the creatures who naturally inhabit this island. They have been erased before, and they have always found their way back. The alligator in Disney World was no accidental happenstance; one wonders how Disney could have been so blindsided, given their layered history with Captain Hook.  imgresOkay, it was a crocodile, but the point remains.  The swamps that were Florida before the marauding white man decided to tame them belonged first to the alligators. The Disney folk can kill them, but for every one they kill, a dozen will come to the funeral, and unless the humans figure out a way to co-exist peacefully and safely, the gators will be victorious.

The meek do not inherit the earth. The fittest do. Those who can survive on garbage and mud and each other, like gators and rats and pigeons and squirrels and bugs, will long live after us. They don’t need us any more than they need the sunlight or the clean air that we can’t live without.  The creatures will be more than happy to take what we leave behind. And then nature will regenerate, and evolution will replace us with new “higher” organisms.  But we won’t be here to greet them or study them or abuse for our pleasure.

We have to choose. Are we with ‘em?  If we’re not, they’ll most assuredly be against us.

 

 

 

 

Why I Stand With Planned Parenthood

While I refuse to qualify the bizarre allegations levied by misogynistic fear mongerers against Planned Parenthood, I feel a need to make a small statement of support for an institution that I believe in, an institution our society cannot afford to lose.

First of all, I would like to go on record by saying that there is no reason for apologia where abortion services are concerned.  Abortion is legal in this country, and women have the legal right to choose whether their bodies may be receptacles of new life.  I don’t know anyone who is pro-abortion; I am not.  But I am pro-choice, including the difficult choice to terminate a pregnancy.  Choice deserves and requires protection.

What the critics chronically forget to mention is that Planned Parenthood does so much more than counsel women regarding their unwanted pregnancies.  They saves the lives of mothers and children.    Planned Parenthood is a safe haven the community cannot do without.

I don’t know anyone who loves going to the doctor for gynecological examinations, but all women need to do so in order to protect themselves against illnesses that attack the female organs. And having access to affordable care and to prevention and cure of feminine illnesses also deserves and requires protection.

Planned Parenthood provides choices, care and prevention that no other institution offers, preserving women’s lives in a variety of ways, and we must stand up for the good that they do lest it be lost in a hale of ignorance and misconception.  All pun intended.

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  1. Judy’s Story – Perilous Days Before Roe v. Wade

I was 18 when I met Judy. We were both employed by a large firm in New York whose specialty was writing employment manuals for employers. I was a proofreader; Judy was a typist, and she was 19, mere months away from reaching twenty.

Judy was ever so much more mature than I was in ways I never imagined myself becoming, and she intrigued me. I still lived in my aunt and uncle’s house, where no matter what, I was sheltered, fed, protected from the world. Judy lived on her own in a one-bedroom apartment in Bay Ridge, where she had to cover the rent, heat, food and clothing for herself and her 4-year-old daughter. On my meager salary, I had a hard time keeping up with the minimal contribution I made to household expenses and found it challenging to buy enough clothing often enough to get to work looking respectable. Judy made less than I did, and in addition to all her other expenses, she had to pay for whatever day care her friends were unable to provide.

Hoping always to find a man who would step up where her deadbeat ex-husband had failed her, Judy dated fairly frequently, and I was her go-to evening babysitter. I loved the solitude of being in her house after her daughter went to sleep; I marveled at her house, so clean, so bright and cheerful. She had curtains on the windows, rugs on the floor, pictures on the wall; her daughter’s bed was a frilly pink wonderland. How did she do it?

I loved Judy’s child, who was smart, funny, talented and spirited. We watched Sesame Street together in its first year, and I took her to meet my friend Northern, who played one of her favorite “real people” characters on the show. I was part of the family, intimately tied to them by an interdependence that suited us all.

Judy could not possibly hope to sustain any more of a burden than she was already managing. She often said to me, “Carla, I gotta be real careful, ya know? I mean I got knocked up the first time because I wasn’t payin’ close enough attention. I cannot afford to have another kid.”

But no matter how careful you were in the 60s, pregnancy was never altogether preventable. After seeing a prospective stepfather for several months, she stayed overnight with him, and despite her protestations that she took EVERY precaution, she became pregnant. In those days, many of my friends and relatives were victims of missed pills, defective condoms, miscalculated dates; Judy’s mishap was no surprise.

“I’m a good mother,” she moaned to me the day she got her test results. “I am. But dammit, Carla, what ’m I supposed to do? I got dreams for my kid. I want her to have a good education, do more with her life than I did. I can’t afford another one.”

I had no words of wisdom. There were no alternatives. The would-be stepfather dropped out of sight as soon as he became a prospective dad. Should the fetus in Judy’s belly grow to childhood, it faced a life of poverty that would also drag its older sister into an abyss, an underfed, underserved existence. Judy was despondent.

Then, for a time, we only saw each other at work . I don’t know how many nights she stewed without confiding her thoughts. But one night after midnight, my phone rang, and it was Judy; she was crying and sounded wrung out. “Carla. I need you to get here right away. Please.”

I lived in Bayside, Queens, a long way from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I took a bus to Flushing, where I got a subway to a transfer point in Manhattan and then, following Judy’s instructions, emerged somewhere in Brooklyn, where I hailed a cab. She was waiting for me with Norma, a co-worker with whom we often socialized, a slightly older woman who had brought with her her own 8-year-old daughter. I had been summoned to babysit. They left the minute I got there without explanation, but I knew something was terribly wrong.

Judy had no color in her face and could barely move. Norma had to carry Judy down the stairs, and I watched out the window as she lifted my nearly lifeless friend into the cab. I took both little girls with me to Judy’s bed, and we slept through the night. It was after noon before Norma returned. The girls and I were having breakfast.

“She’s going to be okay,” was all Norma told me. When the children moved closer to the television and engrossed themselves in Days of Our Lives, she explained.

“We decided not to tell you last night. If we got arrested, we wanted you to be clean so you could take care of the girls.”

Judy had had her pregnancy terminated by a local “Gypsy” woman. She nearly bled to death, willing to die rather than bring another child into the world. She was prepared to sacrifice her life rather than throw her daughter’s future away.

I was grateful she got away with it. Still am, as I am certain both she and her daughter are as well. That daughter is a prominent physician today.

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  1. Sally’s Tale  – In Need of A Safety Net

Sally works overseas, only gets to come back to the States once a year. In the country where she lives, she gets inexpensive insurance coverage that ensures that she has unlimited access to comprehensive health care. Whenever she visits home, she cites the high cost of health care as one reason she feels compelled to remain abroad.

Sally is nearing forty, and though her latest love affair, which lasted two years, ended in a break-up, she was delighted to learn that she was pregnant. Professionally secure and ensconced in a comfortable community in her adopted land, she was sure she could manage the challenge of single motherhood. After a visit to her local physician, who did an ultra sound, Sally left for her annual visit stateside confident that she was carrying a healthy fetus. She could not wait to share the news with her family.

By the time she left for her trip, Sally was feeling uneasy. There had been movement in her womb, but all movement had stopped. Since there were no other signs of trouble, however, she carried on with her plans and made her yearly pilgrimmage. But the discomfiture persisted, so she decided it would be a good idea to check in with an American doctor at an American hospital to make sure all was well.

A family friend, a physician himself, recommended a colleague who worked in a highly respected medical group, where fees would be less than exorbitant.

The news was devastating: the pregnancy had self-terminated. But before the gynocologist had confirmed that fact, he took blood tests and performed the sonogram, which cost Sally upwards of $1200. The doctor told Sally to come back for a D & C, but the costs were so astronomical that Sally was determined to let the miscarriage expel itself naturally over time, a choice, which, as anyone who has been there will tell you, was less than wise.

Over the next several days, Sally’s pain grew, and a deep despondency settled in. She had wanted to bear a child, and carrying this failed fetus exacerbated her physical pain. Finally, seeking advice online and a possible support group to join, she found Planned Parenthood.

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Sally conferred with a lifelong friend, who had been without health insurance for many years. The friend confirmed that Planned Parenthood, the only place she could get low-cost or no-cost cancer screenings and overall checkups, was a good choice. Sally made an appointment, and a day later, a kind nurse gently ushered Sally into a comfortable place where a coterie of empathetic women tended to her, prepared her, comforted her as she endured the actual procedure.

The entire experience cost her  less than $300.

No other institution in this country offered Sally so much life-affirming concern or treated her with such respect. And no one offered the service at a cost that was nearly as affordable.

 

Get Real: Titanic on Wheels (Part 1)

“Everyone’s up in arms about the poor horses, and I don’t mean any disrespect for those horses, but they are treated better than tour guides. The real victims out here are the humans driving this business.” Stefan Stanley.

So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

There is nothing new to be said about Robin Williams and his death, and it’s a good thing. I cannot find words to describe how I feel. I mourn for his wife and especially his children, I mourn for a world that will have one less astute observer to provide gleeful yet sobering reality checks, and I mourn for the man whose inner voices gave him so little peace.

A friend pointed out as I moped through the first day of life without Williams on the planet that “At least he wasn’t a family member or a close friend. . . “ Agreed. But I can’t help feeling like he belonged to me. To my family. He was a glue for us; many Saturday nights when other teenagers were out driving aimlessly in cars, ours were home sharing a Robin Williams video with their (gulp) parents. We loved him equally, and he seemed to speak for us as well as to us. He got us the way we got him, and he made us feel like we belonged together.

An iconoclast who married an iconoclast, I shared a love for Robin with my husband, and with him we completely intersected. It would be difficult to ascribe too much credit to Williams for keeping us together for 33 years; there were so few things we truly, honestly enjoyed in common. Laughing with Williams, I felt like I could endure whatever did not bind us together because the laughter and the tears his performances wrought were delicious enough to make up for all the things that drove us apart.  Better still, our kids loved him equally, and we laughed aloud, in unison, in perfect harmony at his jokes and ahhed as one at the deeply human characters he brought us in his films.

Williams spoke to me from somewhere inside me, often observing things in a way I was hesitant to admit, and he gave me courage to see them my own way. My parents died, and my siblings wandered far afield of me, but Robin was always there as a surrogate brother, reminding me that I may be weird, but there are weirder ones on the planet, and weirdness can make joy . . . as well as pain. I learned to savor the joy and swallow the pain.

I imagine the pain Robin Williams swallowed finally choked him. But I can’t judge, can’t know what was in his heart or his stomach. I loved him, I identified with him, but I was never he. In the end, I can only think how lucky we were to have had him with us for his time.

I think about the Apple ad that asked, in Williams’ unmistakable (“Captain”‘s) voice, what our verse would be. He was exactly the right person to ask because he knew about verses — he left us so many, and they were well crafted, eminently memorable. We’ll always have those.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiyIcz7wUH0