Does Fan equal Friend? Usually…Not Always

And what a delight to make friends with someone you have despised!~~ Colette

  
Facebook makes it so easy to keep track of the happenings going on with the people we care for who might be outside our inner circle. I’ve reconnected with a lot of people I lost touch with. Absolutely priceless gifts. I made new, real friends online, too. People I share common interests with that I never would have met without social media. Truly unexpected blessings. Among the greatest blessings has to be when I connect with someone that I didn’t care for back in the day but find that I genuinely care for them now. Life is full of growth and second chances. 

It all has helped me realize a few things…

That perspective is reality. I was hurt, damaged and suffering years ago. I saw the world and everyone in it through those eyes. Older, wiser and liking myself better now, I realize all of us were fumbling our way through, figuring out who we were while trying to look cool. We failed a lot. We were assholes very often because of it.  Myself included.  Big time. But that’s all part of our rites of passage, isn’t it? I find it comforting that so many of us made it to where we are today and that I can have “new old friendships.” Plus those awkward times make for killer tales now. What made us cry then often makes us laugh today. 

That you can go home again. As we all grew out of the drama of teen angst, we became the adults in charge. With that came very real life challenges to face, often with others relying on our decisions. It’s stressful. It’s scary. Sometimes even life-or-death. Life somehow got very real. Nostalgia provides relief. Incredibly powerful relief from the daunting grownup issues of today — mundane and profound varieties alike. Looking at old photos of ticket stubs from when The Ramones played Our Lady of Lords (I still have a few of my actual stubs) or Alley Pond Park and Creedmoor then engaging in “remember that time when…” stories with others about them. And if you are incredibly blessed like I am to have friends “who knew you when” to lean on and who can lean on you when life has its way with you…well every conversation is the safety of homecoming. That warm energy deep within generated by the past helps me smile and say I got this today. 

  
That not everyone on your “friends” list is actually your friend. Just as each of us has a brightside, we each have a darkside, too. The stealth nature of social media lends itself well to feeding that darkness. It’s why some of my friends take breaks from it here and there. I get that…even though I can’t wait to see them return. What I don’t get is what the point is in befriending someone you dislike because you dislike them in order to keep track of them and continue to dislike them. I’ve even known people who have gone so far as to create online aliases to continue to do so after the person they dislike blocked them. If you did this in outside life, you’d be called a nutcase, deemed a stalker and depending on how invasive you are, you might be subject to arrest. Why then would anyone think this is appropriate behavior online? Sanity aside…who has that kind of time on their hands? I struggle to stretch the day long enough to include all I need to and want to do in my professional, personal and community life. Even if I wanted to, it would be impossible to give time to stalk someone I dislike without taking it away from someone or something that brings me joy. How can that be worth it? Even more mind boggling is that I found that there are some who even stalk by proxy. Sadly it has recently come to my attention that some of my “friends” have given information to others I blocked. Not only is this a betrayal of trust but it potentially puts me and my family in harms way. Uncool. There are very real reasons why people get blocked. Respect that. You rarely know the whole backstory. 

While we all need alone time, we are not designed to be solitary beings. When we connect with one another, we fulfill what we are destined to do. We reach our full potential. We help others reach theirs. Be the rain that grows the garden…not the storm that spoils the parade. 

Namaste. 

It’s a Wonderful Life

A few weeks ago, my stepfather called to let me know that my mother was in hospital and would be undergoing heart surgery.  He told me to call him for details.  It was a brief voicemail.  Very out of character.  His voice also rang of despair. For many years, my mother has been — very successfully — living with a rare, chronic, incurable disease the end stages of which often include heart failure.  For as many years, I knew that I would one day receive a call like this one.  Given the status of our relationship for the last four years, I was confident that I knew how I would react.  I was wrong.

That Karma Bitch
That Karma Bitch

 

When that Karma bitch came around to do what she does best, I knew that I would sit myself a front row seat, grab a tub of popcorn and watch the show play out while my dysfunctional life with my mother flashed before my eyes to remind me of why she earned this comeuppance.  After decades of being the object of her contempt and neglect…after decades of clawing my way back up from the pit in my soul that abuse left…after years of trying to come to terms with the recovered memories of her being not only complicit but instrumental in facilitating the sexual abuse inflicted upon me as a child…this would be my turn to be strong on her, to watch her be vulnerable and scared then choose to do nothing.  I would enjoy the satisfaction of watching the Karmic Wheel spin full circle.  This is not what happened when I got the call.  It’s not at all what happened.

I had my front row seat.  What I also had was an ache in the pit of my chest.  My mother has always been terrified of death.  Honestly, who isn’t?  But my mother has always been almost phobic about it.  Given her chronic illness and what was now happening with her heart, the ache I was feeling in my own heart was for the terror she must be experiencing.  Almost exactly to the date, two years prior, she was in the same hospital, in the same ward, authorizing multiple revivals of her father’s failing heart.

I didn’t know what was going on with Henry’s (my mother’s father) health until several weeks after he’d taken ill when the three strange visitors arrived on my doorstep, investigating a spontaneous confession he made in the hospital.  Prior to their visit to my home, Henry starred in what I believed to be a series of nightmares.  Now, at the risk of sounding utterly insane, I’m not sure what they were.  Like my mother, Henry was nearly phobic about death.  I believe that the thought of one day possibly having to answer for the things he did was the basis of Henry’s phobia.  Then as death finally approached to give his body relief from his diseased heart, his chest was cracked open only to be revived to its painful, compromised state…the process repeated several times.  It was during the space between one of these revivals that Henry made his excited utterance.  It is my completely uninformed, unscientific, gut belief that Henry felt that the evil deeds he had done were anchors keeping him bound to this earth.  The three strange visitors almost instantly achieved clarity in Henrys deathbed confession, expressed remorse both that it happened at all and that they couldn’t do anything further to achieve justice because it had been over 30 years, then closed the investigation.  With that, I felt a lightness I never experienced before.  It was as if the confession of this unspeakable act perpetrated upon me cut loose an anchor holding me down.  Just like that, this part of me was free.  Afterward, when the nightmare repeated itself, I told Henry that I am no longer a weight holding him here.  I repeated this through prayer to my Higher Power.  Two weeks later, Henry finally passed away.

forgiveness-does-not-absolve-you-from-consequences

Now my mother was the one in the bed.  Checking in on her daily, her situation was not as dire as Henry’s was two years ago.  Still…it must have been frightening for her…and it was surprisingly so for me.  I was conflicted.  Each note of sympathy my heart played, my head countered it with disgust at myself for feeling it.  Still…I couldn’t stop.

We had our first and final confrontation over what happened to me as a child four years ago.  My mother took no responsibility.  My mother had no remorse.  My mother told me that her allegiance would always be with her father over me.  It was that day that I decided that I couldn’t have her in my life any longer.  I howled and cried for the rest of the day when I got home.  It was the day that grown-up Judy severed all hope that inner-child Judy had that things might ever be different.  It hurt.  But it was right.  The amount of self-healing that has been able to occur in these four years is extraordinary.  There was still anger but the rage was gone.  That in and of itself is nothing short of miraculous.  It has given way to enhanced compassion.  I believe it gave me the ability to handle the information I received from the three strange visitors with the composure that I did.  It is unfortunate that this is the way it needs to be…but it does.

Terrifying freedom
Terrifying freedom

 

Somehow I thought that coming to this decision would relieve me of the painful reflection that comes along with being a child whose mother is in poor health, possibly approaching the beginning of the end of her life.  I try to see the Brightside in as much as I can so I don’t go mad.  I thought this relief was the brightness in this incredibly dark place in my life.  Wrong.  I find myself instead struggling to find good things to cling to.  At first it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.  My mother was deliberately absent from my life, even when she was physically present.  During those times that we did interact, it was rarely pleasant.  I had more rage for her than I did even for her father.  It’s a mother’s job, her animal instinct, to protect her child from danger, not place her in it for her own personal gain.  That to me is unconscionable.  I swore it was unforgivable.  Now I find myself here at a crossroads, finding it impossible to walk away.  Instead, I dove head first into those haystacks.

The needle that shone brightest was It’s a Wonderful Life.  As a child of the ‘70s in Queens, before the million cable channel options afforded to us, every Christmas season we were under the relentless assault of repeated broadcasts of this film.  It seemed that whenever my mother was home and it was on, she watched it.  Not blank way we do when there’s nothing else on.  Each time she was entranced.  I would hear her act out some of the dialogue.  I would see her cry.  Although we sat in the living room together watching the same movie at the same time, it was for her a solitary experience.  I realize now that’s likely the reason why she cried at every viewing.  The point this film drives home is that no matter how lonely you feel, if you’re doing it right, life is not a solitary experience.  The things you do, the words you say, the places you are, effect others, often in entirely unexpected ways.  My mother always cried when everyone in the town came together to help George Bailey during his time of need.  He didn’t have to ask.  Because of the person he was during the whole life he lead – mistakes and all – when he was in trouble, he had people lining up to help him.  As they did, they shared what a positive impact he had on their life.  That his life mattered.  I wondered if the reason she cried just then was the same reason I did; would I ever have a George Bailey moment in my own life?

clarence

I lived a goodly portion of the first half of my life feeling like George Bailey did in the first half of the movie; like the world and everyone in it would be better off had I never been born.  Unlike George Bailey, I felt this way because some of my earliest memories were of being told just that…and I believed it.  The rage I mentioned earlier that I have recently been relieved of was largely directed at myself.  I felt like I constantly had to prove to myself and others because I started out as a mistake, I subsequently needed to earn my right to be here.  If I made myself useful, I would be needed.  And being needed is almost as good as being wanted.  Almost.  Not quite.  I watched George Bailey walk through the “what if” world Clarence created for him.  I wondered if I would see something similar if Clarence talked me off one of the many ledges I teetered upon.  I wondered if there would ever come a time where someone would tell me that one little something I said or that I did made a difference in their life.  As it turns out, there are a lot of someones and somethings.  I have been blessed with these beautiful moments personally, most importantly with my baby girl who gives my life meaning with every breath she takes.  Through the years, my friends have told me that their lives are better because I’m in it and have missed me when I’ve been gone.  Each time I write parts of my own story, inevitably someone tells me that it has given them courage to face and move past what has happened to them in their own lives; some of them are people I don’t even know.  I am George Bailey and It’s a Wonderful Life.

friends

My mother never had any friends.  My mother kept away from family.  My mother very much retreated within herself, becoming the center of her own universe.  One of my dearest friends asked me recently if I think that my mother’s self-centeredness was her brain’s way of dealing with her own childhood demons, just as repressing memories was my defense mechanism.  I told her that believe that’s true…but it doesn’t condone her transformation from victim to perpetrator.  Most of us would live lives as perpetual victims rather than become abusers ourselves.  My mind still couldn’t help but wander back to the tears my mother shed during It’s a Wonderful Life and the thought of her frightened in her hospital bed.  Is she scared of running out of time to ever have her George Bailey moment?  To be at the end of your life alone — even if it is a direct consequence of choices you’ve made — to feel as though you have come and gone from this world invisibly, absent of any positive impact is a heartbreaking idea.  To move on from this consciousness to the next, having to answer for the sins you’ve committed and feel you have nobody feeling empty from your loss is an ominous fate.

I can’t erase the things that my mother inflicted upon me.  Not from her life or mine.  In my recovery, I am told that in order to truly heal myself, I need to “forgive them even if they are not sorry.”  I have not yet reached the level of enlightenment necessary to do this.  What I can do is what happened two years ago with Henry when the three strange visitors came.  I can cut each of us free from the anchor to the past that keeps us bound to it.

Forgive them even if they are not sorry

I can give my mother a bit of a George Bailey moment by letting her know that her life has meaning in mine.  It turns out that my mother was wrong in her original assessment of my life.  I am not a mistake.  I belong here simply because of the life my mother created and gave to me.  How she feels about that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with her.  I can only be grateful for the gift.  I am.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have the experiences that I did.  I wish there was a different way for it to have come about but this is how it was meant to be.  I can only embrace the end result.  I listen closely.  I am compassionate.  I make people laugh through adversity.  I am one of the helpers.

I inherited my way with the written word from my mother.  My rage has always prevented me from admitting that but I’ve always known it to be true.  The written page is where my mother’s intelligence and articulation unite to become melody.  I can’t say that I share her perspective on anything she’s written but it is always so eloquently put forth and enjoyable to read.  My writing has been my personal savior in so many ways.  It is how I define myself.  It is how I connect with others on more profound levels.

let go balloon

For a variety of reasons beyond my control, saying these things in person was not meant to be.  I no longer question the wisdom of the Universe.  I have learned to just go with it.  Besides, it seems fitting that I utilize my mother’s gift to me of the written word to express my gratitude for it.  I hope that my letting go and the peace I’ve made with the Universe about our past allows both my mother and me to move more freely to the next places that each of us will go.  I hope that my prayers reach her, as closed off as she may be, so that she is less fearful and feels less alone.

It’s a wonderful life.  I thank you for it, Mom.

Namaste.

Sometimes Doing What You Hate Will Get You to a Place You Love

The photo on the left is of me on the red carpet at an event in May 2014.

  • I was three months into Nutrisystem and down about 15 pounds.
  • Exercise still eluded me.  I hated exercise.  I refused to do it.
  • I was pleased with the direction I was going …but frustrated by how long it was taking to see progress.

 

full body before after

On the right, I am on another red carpet a few months later.

From the start, I was on Nutrisystem for one reason:  realizing portion control.  Before that, every size package was a “single serve” to me.  I am forever grateful to Nutrisystem for getting me on the right track and keeping me motivated with everything from teddy bears to food/water/exercise journals.  I weaned myself off their plan and created my own.  I still eat everything…just not all of it.

About a week after the pic on the left was taken, I incorporated exercise into my daily life.  I remember clearly my first time on the f*ckin elliptical.  I barely got through 5 minutes at the lowest possible setting.  It was the f*ckin elliptical’s first attempt on my life.  I seriously thought I was going to die and swore that I would never be able to use that machine.   After a few weeks of doing an hour of cardio on the recumbent stationary bike, I decided to try the f*ckin elliptical again.  I got through 10 minutes on the lowest possible setting and was the second attempt on my life…but it didn’t kill me. That day I decided that every week, I would add another 10 minutes.  Once I got to 30 minutes, I decided that I would challenge myself to raise the level bi-weekly.  I’m at level 18 now.  Soon I’ll have to think of another challenge and the f*ckin elliptical will have to figure out a new way to kill me…because so far I’ve lived even when I felt like I was gonna die. I still hate exercising.  I do it anyway because I love the results.

The progress I made is beyond my wildest dreams.  While I haven’t achieved all my goals, I know that it is possible and that once goals are realized, part of the celebration is that you continue to raise the bar for yourself.

My bottom line:  It’s worth it to do what you hate to get to where you want to be.

And So it Begins: The Trial of Kyle Underhill’s Murder

The word for someone who lost a spouse through death is widow/ widower. The word for a child who lost parents through death is orphan. There is no word in the English language for a parent who has lost a child through death. Losing a child is so unnatural, so unspeakably horrific, there literally are no words.  But it happens.

It happened on November 16, 2011 in my town, a few blocks from my home, when 18 year old Kyle Underhill was murdered.  On September 28, 2015, nearly four years later, the trial began.

Kyle was a handsome young man with piercing blue eyes.
Kyle was a handsome young man with piercing blue eyes.

 

I first wrote about Kyle’s murder days after it happened.  It struck me hard on many levels.  Not because I knew Kyle in life; in fact it was because I didn’t know him.  My father’s violent death after his complete absence from my life to that point was what defined him to me.  It always struck me as inherently unfair that one moment could overshadow an entire lifetime.  In my blog, I tried to shift the focus from Kyle’s death to his 18 years of life by sharing the stories I heard from those who were fortunate enough to know him.

Face full of promise for a glorious life.
Face full of promise for a glorious life.

 

At that time, so little was known about the circumstances surrounding Kyle’s death.  As members of the community, all we knew is that Kyle was found in the marshy woods on Brook Street.  He died by someone else’s hand and it was deliberate.  By all accounts, Kyle did not live a life where this would be a likely event.  He graduated high school in June, worked two jobs at two of our town Main Street’s more upscale businesses and he was full-time college freshman with aspirations of a career in psychology.  We were all scared.  If this could happen to a young man like Kyle, it could happen to any one of us.  The killer was at large.  Within a few weeks, police officers attended our neighborhood watch meeting to give us an update.  While no arrests had been made, the police investigation concluded that Kyle’s murder was neither gang related (which had been early speculation) nor was it random.  As with the majority of murders, Kyle knew his killer.

Kyle Underhill was Islip High School Class of 2011. June 2011, he was filled with the joy of achieving this milestone, exited about what his future had in store.
Kyle Underhill was Islip High School Class of 2011. June 2011, he was filled with the joy of achieving this milestone, exited about what his future had in store.

 

In November 2013, just about two years since Kyle was murdered, an arrest was made.  Thomas Liming, a young man whose house I could practically see from mine, surrendered to the police after hearing that a grand jury indictment was imminent.  He was charged with second degree murder, arrested and held on $5 million cash bail.  For the first time, it was released to the public how Kyle was found and what caused his death.  I don’t think the details are important to know here.  I am sure that once the medical examiner testifies at trial, every last gruesome detail will be revealed by the media…but I will say that I understand clearly the police’s early conclusion that this was a deliberate act and that Kyle suffered in his last moments on earth.  That is something that my father was spared, as violent as his death was.

During the nearly two years since the arrest was made and we received the answer to the pressing question of WHO became known, it seemed to offer more unrest in our community than comfort.  Just as Kyle was such an unlikely murder victim, Tom Liming was an unlikely murderer.  Yet he killed Kyle.  Slowly.  Violently.  They were friends.  This is what has made it so difficult for our community to swallow.  They were friends.  The ones who were – and still are – in the greatest disbelief are the friends they had in common.  At 18, you believe that you are invincible.  Indestructible.  Your friends are everything.  When a tragedy occurs to burst that illusion, it’s devastating.  A lot of those kids were who I heard the heartwarming stories about Kyle from that I published in my original blog.  I remember when they came to our neighborhood watch meeting to gain support for a petition they composed to get more street lights on Brook Street where Kyle died in tribute to him.  They wanted this not to be real but since it was, they wanted justice.  Now that another friend confessed to killing Kyle, many of these mutual friends who are now 20-somethings are in varying degrees of denial.  As are many of the adults in our community.  In many ways I think our community would rather Kyle’s killer be a random, homicidal interloper.

One of the advantages of growing up in a perpetual state of dysfunction is that I am afforded suspension of disbelief in situations such as this.  It still breaks my heart but the shock wears off on me sooner than most.  In my 45 years, I have never been harmed by a stranger.  Heinous acts that were perpetrated upon me were at the hands of those who were supposed to put my safety and well-being above all else.  I’ve seen firsthand that at our core, humans are animals capable of savage things.  The overwhelming majority of us never unleash our primal behavior…but some do, as it happened in Kyle’s murder.  We make ourselves vulnerable to the people we trust.  That’s what makes the betrayal all the more painful when it is revealed.  The moment you come to the realization that this person you trusted is committing an egregious act against you is more painful than the act itself.  At least it was that way for me…but unlike Kyle, I lived through it and was afforded the opportunity to heal and move on.  The pain of his friend’s betrayal might have been the last thing Kyle felt.

In our US justice system, we have the presumption of innocence.  The prosecution has the burden of proof that beyond reasonable doubt the accused is guilty as charged.  They open the trial.  They present their evidence first.  They close last.  However, in this case there is no presumption of innocence; the defendant admitted to killing Kyle.  The trial is now a question of WHY?  Oftentimes, the WHY is revealed to an extent at the opening of the trial.  This did not happen here.  Because the prosecution still needs to meet the burden of guilt of second degree murder, the defense is going to hear the evidence presented to the court, cross examine the witnesses and then decide what the affirmative defense will be.  This is the right of the defendant.

I believe in our justice system.  I know from firsthand experience that what something appears to be can differ greatly from what is.  It is best for all of us as Americans that the prosecution has to meet high standards of proof in order to obtain a conviction.  But the prosecution is also known as “The People.”  In murder cases, The People are a person without a voice of his own because his life has been stolen from him.  Even the name of the trial itself further shifts the importance from the victim to the defendant. When I arrived at the courthouse, I asked which courtroom to go to for Kyle Underhill’s murder trial.  They didn’t know what I was talking about until I said the defendant’s name.  The trial is referred to by the defendant’s name, not Kyle’s. It seems somehow unfair that the thief of this human life, the admitted killer, has the ability to not only be present but to weigh out his options because he created the ultimate silence for the victim.

Long hair and a suit...Kyle doesn't look too different from my friends when I was 18.
Long hair and a suit…Kyle doesn’t look too different from my friends when I was 18.

 

I deliberately attended the trial the day that Kyle’s mom was called as a witness.  I cried on the drive out to the courthouse in Riverhead.  I wondered how is this woman mentally preparing to talk about the worst day of her life?  In my blog I write very openly about some very bad things that happened to me…but there is less than a handful of people I speak to in-person about these experiences.  The writing process to me is cathartic.  Because my blog is published publicly, I have found out that my words have had a healing effect on others, too.  But I get to choose what to say and when to say it.  Kyle’s mom had to recount every detail of every painful second from 1 a.m. on November 16, 2011 to when they found Kyle on November 18th.  She sat there and spoke for hours.  All the while facing the defendant who sat less than 10 feet away, the person who admitted to ending her son Kyle’s life.  Then it was the defense’s turn to question her, trying to poke holes and twist the things she said.  But she did it.  She did it for Kyle.

The thing that struck me the most about Kyle’s mom’s testimony was that she always spoke about him in the present tense.  From the very first question the ADA asked, how many children do you have?  “I have two sons.”  To her answers to other questions, “Kyle works at Manhattan Sweets,” and “Kyle is studying psychology.”  She can’t bring herself to refer to him in the past tense.

For all of us, we remain alive in the stories people tell about us.  There were reporters from Newsday and the NY Post in the courtroom the day I went.  They will be relaying the facts in a manner that will benefit the circulation of their newspapers.  There is more to Kyle story than this.  I want that “more” to be the stories I share.

Here are some of the things I found out about Kyle in the courtroom:

  • After founding the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) in his former high school, when Kyle and his family moved to Islip in his sophomore year, he and the school nurse established GSA in his new high school. GSA is a club that was established to defeat intolerance and promote acceptance of others.  No matter who you are, what you like, who you love, it’s okay to be who you are.
  • Kyle saved $5,000 from the two jobs he worked to buy a Toyota and continued to work so he could insure it and keep it running. He had so much pride in ownership that he washed it by hand constantly, even as late as November.
  • He aspired to work at Teller’s for quite some time before he got the job. He applied several times.  Then one day Kyle’s parents sat him down and said “maybe they will hire you if you cut your hair.”  Kyle was a metal head and was growing his hair long.  He got that haircut then went to Teller’s one more time and came home with a blue shirt, red tie, a crumb scraper – which he thought was the coolest thing EVER – and a job.   It was as if they were waiting for Kyle to get that haircut so they could finally hire him.  PS: I think those crumb scraper things are pretty damn cool, too.
  • Kyle had a first love. He kept photos of the two of them tucked in his wallet.  It made me happy that he knew love like that before he died.
  • He kept a box of art supplies in the trunk of his car so he would be ready when inspiration strikes.

The media won’t be reporting on these things…but I think is important to know how much was lost the day that Kyle’s life was stolen.

Do you remember how proud you were of your first car? Your first taste of freedom. Kyle was no different.
Do you remember how proud you were of your first car? Your first taste of freedom. Kyle was no different.

 

There were several moments during the day’s testimony that made me cry.  Recounting Kyle’s graduation from Islip High School, working two jobs and embarking upon college…I just went and/or am going through all these things with my baby girl.  There but for the grace of God go I.  My heart breaks for Kyle because now more than ever I see my daughter in him with all her hope and promise.  My heart breaks for Kyle’s mom because now more than ever I see myself in her first with the transitioning and letting go as our children become adults…then the unimaginable.  But I get to shake it off and hug my baby girl at the end of the day.  Kyle’s mom has only memories to give her comfort.

Then there is the defendant.  His inscription in Kyle’s yearbook was read into evidence.  It was a full page that started “where do you think we will be in 5 years?”  I don’t think there was any way either he or Kyle imagined their future to be intertwined like this.

Is It Our Moral Obligation to Sin?

Long before Robbie Coltrane became Hagrid in the Harry Potter films, he was a “nun on the run.”  I love this picture.  If you haven’t seen it — and most people haven’t — I recommend it.  The plot in a nutshell is this…Robbie Coltrane and Eric Idle are career criminals who, after a change in their gang’s hierarchy, decide to do one last heist to bankroll their escape from the gang and the UK altogether.  Things go wrong and they find themselves hiding out disguised as nuns.  Robbie Coltrane’s character, Charlie McManus, grew up in the Catholic church and uses his unique take on the doctrines to assimilate to their new surroundings in the convent.  It is this interesting view that I found most appealing in the film.  Here he explains the sacrifice…

” …it’s the doctrine of original sin. You see, we’re all born sinful, except for Jesus who was perfect of course. And he was sent to save us. But how could he save us unless we’re sinning? So we have to go on sinning in order to be saved and go to Heaven. That’s how Christianity works. That’s why it suits so many people.”

I was 20 when I saw this film. This monologue has always stuck with me.  I often said who I was 25 years ago is very different than who I am now.  But I realize today that is not true.  I think that who I was then is the same as who I am now and in all likelihood who I will be tomorrow; it is my perception of who I am, my place in the world and my behaviors that have changed through the decades.

After seeing this film initially, I reflected on this scene and asked myself…is it our moral obligation to sin?  My answer was a very strong…yes.   Anyone who knew me when I was 20 could easily see why.

Through the decades, as I have exited and entered different stages of my life, I have periodically repeated the question to myself…is it our moral obligation to sin?  My answer is inevitably…yes.  But where there was once shame and isolation attached to sin, today I see potential for growth and unity.

If you like silly, British humor with thoughtful moments peppered in, give this picture a whirl.
If you like silly, British humor with thoughtful moments peppered in, give this picture a whirl.

I grew up differently than most people.  I write a lot about that.  One of the best things about the way I grew up was that I was exposed to different faiths and, to an extent, learned their traditions, participating in many of them.  I was never locked into a single faith.  I think that this fed my desire to study theology, exploring a wide variety of religions and philosophies in order to create my own sense of spirituality.  In my home, I had a strong Catholic influence from my Abuelita and a strong Jewish influence from my grandmother who raised me, Mama.

Mama didn’t go to temple but always identified herself as a Jew.  She was proud of her heritage and passed her pride along to me.  We lit the menorah that she placed next to our Christmas tree every Hannukah.  We ate matzoh every Passover.  On Yom Kippur, we lit yahrzeit candles to honor those who died and, of course, we fasted.  Well, Mama fasted.  As a child under 13, it was not expected of me.  I tried anyway.  Some years I was more successful than others.  There was something about the tradition that I found comforting.  The tradition of fasting is done in order to make the soul feel uncomfortable by denying it the things that give our bodies comfort as humans: food, water, bathing.  Experiencing this temporary discomfort lends itself to sympathizing with others when they are in pain or discomfort.  It fosters a feeling of repentance for that which we have caused. During this fast of the body and discomfort of the soul, our minds are devoted to reflection upon the past year, our behaviors, interactions and sins.  Once a year this confession goes to God and forgiveness is sought.

Yom Kippur is "Sabbath of Sabbaths." On this day forgiveness of sins is asked of God.
Yom Kippur is “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” On this day forgiveness of sins is asked of God.

It took me most of my lifetime to understand that this day can be embraced with love rather than from a place of fear.  It is our sin that separates us as humans from the other animals we share this earth with and from the Divine.  In the past, I equated sin with “evil.”  It isn’t.  Evil is a separate entity.  While its possibilities live within all of us, it is not a necessary component of the human condition.  It is exceptional.  Sin is inevitable.  It is the burden of the gift of reason our species was blessed with.  We are not perfect.  We were made to fail.  We were made to at times inflict pain and at times to receive pain.  And because of this, we have the capacity to forgive, to be forgiven and to become better than we were before.  This, too, separates us from the other animals we share this earth with…but it unites us with instead of separates us from the Divine.

I think that it is the acknowledgement of the inevitability of sin that keeps evil away rather than welcoming it.  I am in a program that teaches me that life is all about progress, not perfection.  I think that when you set expectations of perfection, it necessitates deceit, repression and shame.  That is the breeding ground for evil…or at least for living in perpetuity of poor decisions made from a place of fear.

According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person's fate for the coming year into the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah. God then waits until Yom Kippur to "seal" the verdict. During the Days of Awe, the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews try to amend behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.
According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah. God then waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the Days of Awe, the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews try to amend behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.

On this Day of Atonement, I face myself without shame.  I am human.  I am as I was created.  Today, I embrace my humanity and learn to forgive myself. I have always been the greatest obstacle in my own personal growth.  If God can forgive me, I should find a way to allow myself to forgive me, too.  Today, I meditate on what positive action I can take this year to become more, to celebrate my humanity and all that comes with that experience.

So…again I ask…is it our moral obligation to sin?  And again inevitably my answer is…yes.  It is also our moral obligation to ask forgiveness because that will strengthen our ability to forgive and grow regardless of what faith we follow.

L’shana tovah.  G’mar chatimah tovah.  

Sweet New Year.  May you be sealed in the Book of Life.

September 11th: Anniversary of Savage Terror, NOT a Day of Service

I was on the f*ckin elliptical yesterday morning.  “My” machine is the one facing the TVs set to Bravo and USA.  The daily routine consists of listening to Pandora and reading the closed captioning on the Real Housewives or NCIS while my mind thinks of nothing in particular.  Yesterday was different.  A commercial came on the Bravo TV for the “September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance.”  There were a pair of adorable, shiny faced kids visiting some sweet looking white-haired folks a nursing home.  Everyone was happy with a glow from within that only giving of oneself to another can ignite.  Under any other heading, seeing this humanity would have moved me to tears.  Instead, it made me angry.

september-11-2001-911-ground-zero-twin-towers-15

September 11th is not a day of service or remembrance.  It is the day that savages perverted the name of God, used our freedoms as weapons against us in an effort to murder the highest number of our civilians at once, to destroy our way of life and create an aftershock of terror the world has never before seen.  THAT is what we need to remember.  An effort to soften those events is an insult to all those who lost — and are still losing — their lives.  It is pollyannic.  It is downright dangerous and will further the success of the demise of the United States of America.  It is not only OK to be angry on this anniversary; it is our duty.

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I was borne of severe dysfunction.  Throughout my life, I dealt with it in a variety of ways.  My first and most powerful defense mechanism that my unconscious mind devised was going on like it never happened.  But it did.  Like everything else, what’s done is done and can never be undone.  I carried it inside my chest like a big, black rock.  Inside it felt wrong, toxic, heavy…but I ignored it.  How long can you walk around with a big, black tumor in your chest without showing symptoms?  Can you really expect that it will not fester and grow, spreading its poison through your body while you ignore it? My teachers used to tell me that I always had a look of despair on my face.  I said that’s just how my face is (off-shoot of today’s “resting bitchface”).  I was drawn to self-medicate, made poor decisions and put myself in dangerous situations because something inside compelled me to do it.  Thankfully, I got help and finally acknowledged the black rock in my chest.

They thought they would be saved. Can you imagine what those last moments were like for these people?
They thought they would be saved. Can you imagine what those last moments were like for these people?

Knowledge is power.  I learned that the black rock could never be extracted.  I wasn’t responsible for placing it there.  Monsters did that.  Alas, I have the burden of carrying it forever.  And in a polar opposite experience, I unleashed the poison the black rock held within it.  I let the rage flow through my veins.  After being repressed for so long, I thought it only just to put it in charge of my decisions.  At times my fervor would be uncontrollable.  My face would twist until it became unrecognizable, more animal-like than human.  I was a cantankerous, raging bitch.  It was exhausting.  I was killing myself with toxicity.

They thought they would be able to save them. Can you imagine the feeling of powerlessness amid all the chaos?
They thought they would be able to save them. Can you imagine the feeling of powerlessness amid all the chaos?

Today, balance is saving my life.  My story is comprised of many harsh, defining moments.  I know now that those defining moments will only define me if I allow myself to be controlled by them or if I choose to ignore them.  I know now that it is not only OK to be angry about what happened to me but it would be weird and unhealthy if it didn’t make me angry.  I am obliged in my quest for balance and overall health to Let. It. Out.  Sometimes.  Briefly.  During those times, I’ll go to my town beach and scream.  Or curl up and cry.  Or bleed it out as words in my blog.  And then the weight of the black rock in my chest feels more like a pebble than a boulder.  I can carry on lighter and with more clarity.

police

September 11, 2001 was our collective defining moment as Americans.  Each of us remembers exactly what we were doing that day.  How we heard the news.  That moment the world as we knew it was murdered.  One of my most heart-wrenching memories happened on the next back-to-work day.  Getting back to my routine, I arrived at the Bayside Y as soon as it opened to bring my baby girl to day care/Pre-K.  When I arrived, it was as if the staff saw a ghost.  On September 11th, all the main roads heading west — the LIE, NSP, Northern Boulevard, Hillside Avenue, EVERYTHING — were closed to civilian traffic so that emergency workers could have access to NYC and no other potential terrorist could get in.  I had recently started a job in East Hills so getting home was challenging.  My husband picked up that day.  He NEVER picked up.  The staff forgot that I no longer worked in Manhattan.  When they saw my husband, they thought I might be one of those who never made it home that day.  My daughter’s favorite caregiver said that she cried from the moment my husband left on through the night wondering how my baby girl would go on without me. We both cried as she told me. I continued to cry all the way to work thinking about all the children who actually had to figure out how to go on without Mommy or Daddy.

walking

I feel anger and hatred for the people who abused me.  I believe I always will.  No matter how much time passes or how much progress I make in recovery, I do not foresee myself ever forgiving these people. And that’s more than OK.  I carry the black rock they planted in my chest as a reminder of the evil we humans can and often do commit against eachother…and that I can choose to live a life of humanity.  In some ways the black rock affords me a level of compassion that I don’t know I would have achieved otherwise.

Shanksville, PA...final resting place of Flight 93.
Shanksville, PA…final resting place of Flight 93.

I feel the same anger and hatred for the terrorists who murdered 2,974 innocent people on September 11th.  I always will.  No matter how much time passes, I will always shed tears for the children who were never picked up by their mommies again.  My blood will always boil when I think about my friend’s husband who on September 11, 2001, could not join his fellow police officers at Ground Zero because instead he had to protect people who were celebrating the events of the day in the streets of Queens.  I will always be enraged when I remember…and that will serve as a reminder of the evil humans commit against each other so that we may remain ever vigilant against present and future threats.  And that’s more than OK.  It would be stupid and irresponsible not to.  Fuck them. Fuck those who support and facilitate them — overtly or passively.  Fuck those who are trying to numb us into forgetting.  Remember what they did.  Get angry.

pentagon

On September 11th the black rock I carry inside my chest will bleed red, white and blue, as it does every year since 2001…maybe a bit heavier on the blue this year due to the present state of affairs with law enforcement officers.  On this day, I will allow the darkness, anger and profound sorrow to swell inside me and perhaps spill over a little as I remember what cruel savagery exists in the world.  I’ll let the other 364 be days of service.

On September 11th, listen to their names. Look at these faces. Listen to their loved ones. DO NOT FORGET.
On September 11th, listen to their names. Look at these faces. Listen to their loved ones. DO NOT FORGET.

Sometimes Tragedy Can Grow Wings

Today marks seven years since I had the most awful conversation of my life, setting off a chain reaction of explosive dialogues and realizations so painful, I had very strong, very real doubts that I would survive.  I did. Time will never heal these wounds.  But the distance has turned this day from the anniversary of the day life as I knew it died, into a day of reflection upon the birth of my self-awareness.

Time won't heal the caterpillar's wounds. They serve as a reminder of the price of her flight.
Time won’t heal the caterpillar’s wounds. They serve as a reminder of the price of her flight.

I will always carry its scars and many of my wounds will forever remain open.  It is my choice to focus on the broken cocoon that held me captive for decades or concentrate on the metamorphosis and take flight.

Today I will fly…

Namaste.