Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mom Would Have Been 92 Today

About this time last year I was writing the last chapter of a novel, Irish Twins, in which the main character, Anne Shields, was en route to peace and resolution. Anne had lived in my head for many, many months steering the vehicle that drove my creativity.

This character was easy for me to visualize and to hear, for she had the voice of my mother. Not only did I hear her very clearly, but I also listened to everything she said. Just as I had listened to my actual mother when she was still alive. My mom was the quiet type—she didn’t say much—so when she did offer an opinion, it carried a lot of weight.

My mom died when she was 80. Today she would have been 92.

On January 20th each year, I hold her very close; however, there’s rarely a day that goes by when I don’t wonder what my mom would have thought. Shortly after she died it took me several months to stop picking up the telephone and dialing the first digits of her number whenever I wanted to share something. Then, years down the road I had the idea to write the story, Irish Twins, from her perspective. Creating a fictional version of her and her being in the afterlife, allowed me, for a time, to visit with her daily and imagine her answers and her opinions. It was a wonderful exercise in keeping her alive—honoring her life by giving what I knew about her to a fictional character and keeping her close.

So again, about this time last year when I finished the story, it was a bittersweet experience. Of course, I was delighted to type the words “The End” at the bottom of the manuscript, but I was completely unprepared for the immediate flood of grief that filled my senses. It was like saying goodbye to her all over again.

A friend of mine named Mike just lost his mother on Tuesday. I wish I didn’t know what he’s going through, but I do. I’ve witnessed many friends lose a parent over the past 12 years (in the time I not only lost my mom, but also my dad) and it’s the same for all of us. It’s painful and it’s difficult. But because of their deaths, we learn even more about the value of life and, what I believe is our duty to live well.

Today, however, I don’t focus upon my mother’s death. I focus on her life and the beautiful woman she was and will always be in my head. And all is well.

“Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!” —Henry Scott Holland

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Miracle in Tucson

Tomorrow we face another Saturday in Tucson. What it means for my family is that we will be on soccer fields, just as we were last Saturday morning when the news spread through the crowd at a pace as fast and changeable as a soccer ball on a field during a competitive game.

The following are statements that were passed around on the day of the shootings by soccer spectators with cell phones and Internet devices in hand:

“There was a shooting at a Safeway at Ina and Oracle.”

“One gunman, sixteen down.”

“Gabrielle Giffords was shot.”

“Oh my God, she was shot through the head.”

“Sixteen or Nineteen people have been shot. Six are dead.”

“The gunman was a white guy, late teens—early 20s.”

“A friend in law enforcement just told me that Gabby is dead. He said to keep it under wraps. It’s not official.”

After our collective gasp, a couple players on the bench turned around (these were U-13 boys, for whom my daughter, Willow, was a ref).

“What happened?” they asked. “Who is she?”

“She’s our congresswoman. You know, in the U.S. House of Representatives?”

“Oh yeah. I’ve heard of her,” said one, as he cleared his forehead of sandy brown bangs and exposed a face full of freckles.

It was an intense game, tied at 1-1. The coach—aware of what was happening—did his best to keep his head, as well as the heads of his players, in the game. Meanwhile, a man to my right, who was wearing glasses and a khaki hat, stood up, walked over and showed me his Blackberry. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the writing on his miniature screen (no glasses), so I asked him to tell me what it said.

“Fox News and CNN just confirmed she’s dead.” (He didn’t want to say it out loud).

For the rest of the game, this is what we believed to be true. We believed our Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, a woman for whom we voted and supported, and who attended our daughters’ junior high school—who had so many personal ties to friends in our community—was assassinated.

I was one of many who couldn’t contain tears. It was awful, awful news.

Of course, the details continued to change throughout the morning and the rest of the day. By the time the game was over and we were in our car and on our way to lunch, we had learned from the radio that Gabby was actually alive. Then we learned of the death of Judge Roll from a friend we ran into at the restaurant where we had lunch, who worked with the well-liked federal judge and considered him a friend.

I don’t remember where I was when I learned of nine year-old Christina Green, because when I heard that news, my mind definitely shut down. It was simply too painful to fathom, because at that moment, she became my daughter. She became Tucson’s daughter.

We, as a family AND as a community, were dazed and frightened as the hours/days passed and the facts unfolded. We wondered how we would explain this craziness to our children, who looked at us with beseeching eyes.

Putting myself in their position, I recalled a childhood day in 1968 when I heard the news of Robert Kennedy’s assassination. I was very young, however, I was old enough to know that shootings happened—and they happened OFTEN—because of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King. I was led to believe that THIS was what happened in the world. But in spite of other events as my life continued, the attempt on President Regan’s life, for example, and the still unfathomable terrorism of 9/11/2001, I had learned to use coping mechanisms (LIFE GOES ON) to keep getting up and going about our daily business.

And I learned, the older I became, that the easiest coping mechanism was to become complacent and even numb. But last Saturday, this mechanism was NOT acceptable.

This is why I collected my children from school early last Wednesday and stood in line for hours to see and listen to President Obama when he came to Tucson. I had the hopeful desire that somehow he could either explain this to us, or somehow make us feel better.

For those of you who watched his speech, President Obama, of course, couldn’t explain this senseless act of a clearly deranged young man. But I want to tell you all—particularly those of you who wonder WHY Tucson has made such a big deal of his presence here—HE MADE US FEEL BETTER. Our President was like the Dad we needed. He put his arms around us and told us “I’m sorry.” He let us know we were going to be okay and empowered us to go on, reminding us to be civil to one another.

And if you have a problem with that—if you want to unfriend me on Facebook or question my politics or even shake your head at me while attaching anything remotely political to my feelings about what happened in Tucson go ahead. But first, please read just a little bit more:

On Wednesday night, when President Obama told us, with her husband’s permission, that Gabby Giffords opened her eyes for the first time shortly after he and his wife, Michelle, left the hospital room . . . well, I for one, believed with all my heart that we were in the presence of a miracle.

Only days earlier, we’d heard she suffered a “through-and-through” gunshot to the head AND that she was dead. And on Wednesday night, we learned not only that she was alive, but also that she was on the road to recovery. We realize her doctors remain cautiously optimistic, however, they gave her a 101% chance of surviving. And here it is Friday night, and she’s still alive.

If this isn’t a miracle, I don’t know the meaning of the word.

So please be humble in the face of this miracle. Please set aside your political differences—even your BORING discussions and your blame fingers, your left vs. right rhetoric, your crosshairs and your righteousness. This isn’t about President Obama or Sarah Palin. This is about our neighbor, Gabrielle Giffords—a Bobcat alumna and former student of our daughters’ current teachers. And while we are truly sorry for all of the innocent lives lost, because life goes on, we rejoice in the life that was saved.

God bless you Gabby and we pray that you may fully recover, and help keep our hope—as a city AND a nation—alive.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

There Are So Many Stories To Be Told

Let the Great World SpinLet the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let The Great World Spin was a book club selection, which was enjoyed by all who attended, and it prompted a lively, intelligent discussion. The story is based on the lives of eleven characters on the day in 1974 when French funambulist, Philippe Petit, danced across a wire (tightrope) secured between the new twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York. It is a well-written, literary masterpiece with highly believable, three-dimensional (complicated) characters.

The characters are extremely diverse, and include an Irish immigrant “monk” with a heart of gold, a Park Avenue wife of a judge/mother of a son who was killed in Vietnam, a Guatemalan nurse, a young artist trying to kick a cocaine habit and living a 1920s lifestyle, a heroin-addicted street-walking prostitute and her daughter and two young children. There is also a chapter where seemingly unrelated characters in Palo Alto, CA—a group of pioneering computer hackers—find a way to contact payphones in Manhattan on the day of Petit’s performance, and try to get a live blow-by-blow account of the event from eye-witnesses. It’s a reminder to the reader of the state of technology at the time, and how different the world of 1974 was from today, when the event, no doubt, would have been broadcast on every television station and the Internet.

This prompted our group to discuss our own “day-in-the-life” experiences we had on Sept. 11, when we first heard of the attacks on the twin towers. Not surprisingly, everyone in the room watched the horrendous events unfold on television.

The high wire event loosely connects all the characters and it feels as though the lives are spinning and folding atop one another in unexpected ways. In spite of the darkness and at times, overwhelming grief associated with these character’s lives, the reader is left satisfied and reminded how different (and important) each life and each character’s personal story is.

I give this book my highest recommendation.

View all my reviews