Love, Beauty, and Soul are Dirty Words

We love children and polar bears being rescued, but something has gone wrong. We are not fully alive if we do not recognize those who died. We bind up and choke our souls when we do not mourn unnecessary death with outrage.


My dog ponders why he gets dried treats while humans get chocolate truffles, not to mention lobster chowder and mushroom pastries. Still he loves us, especially the grandchildren, and is mature enough not to make sneak attacks for nibbles off the counter.

My 7-year-old granddaughter ponders if she has remembered everyone she wants to give gifts, not allowing herself any excuses for her age. Her body twitches in anticipation of giving her gifts, each with a note saying she loves you.

My 9-year-old grandson ponders the structure of the US Congress and the electoral college and asks if there is an exact correlation between the number of representatives a state has and the number of its electoral representatives, or if it is only approximate. He loves his nation and feels we and it are in danger.

I ponder why I have more anxiety cooking for guests than I had facing angry men with guns in foreign nations.

I ponder free will, the nature of the conscience, the nature of consciousness, if forgiveness has any real meaning, if there is a separate entity we conveniently call “soul” or if that is a blend of our psychology, memory, ethics, longings – like custom paint mixtures with a drop of cerulean blue, some spring green, a tad of gingko leaf green, and a dollop of blood red until you get what feels like the essence of what you are looking for.

I ponder why I love more as I age, how to prevent wrinkles, how much exercise is really necessary, the nutrient value of mushroom powders, what happens to your cells when you have no sexual partner, the size of the universe, and will I have a self-awareness that can self-identify as “me” after I die?

My therapist ponders if she should be pragmatic with me or abstract, usually choosing pragmatic since I handle abstractions better than daily life – usually, not always.

Like my grandson, and every adult I know, I ponder if the T-word (I cannot say his name, which is pragmatic for the state of my psyche) is ushering in – with his band of humorless martinets – the end of the world, the end of the world as we know it, or not so many changes after all.

I do not need to ponder if he is sane.

Love, beauty, and soul:

What I ponder most is love. I read that writers are told not to use the words “soul” or “beauty.” But I know beauty when I see it and I know soul when I feel it. If not using those words has any value other than to get us to further differentiate into details and nuances, I don’t know what it is. We should speak of beauty and soul all the time, delve into their mysteries and their healing powers.

Beauty and soul, like love, cover a lot of territory and are true, and are not afraid to get dirty.

The White Helmets rescuing Syrians from under tens of tons of concrete rubble are beautiful and dirty and work out of love.

Polar bears on melting snow and ice are beautiful and heartbreaking and trying to save their cubs.

Parents carrying children a day’s journey to hospitals across barren earth are weary with grieving for their beloved and desperately ill babies.

Love and beauty and soul mingle with the blood, shit, and gurgling of those who die by guns, drones, bombs, and diseases. They loved and they were loved.

Hearts and minds off course:

We love children and polar bears being rescued, but something has gone wrong. We are not fully alive if we do not recognize those who died. We bind up and choke our souls when we do not mourn unnecessary death with outrage.

Lincoln Financial is one sponsor of The PBS News Hour. Their ad begins with “feel good” photos and a reassuring male voice telling us “You can care for many, but you can only love a precious few.” It then shows photos of loving moments limited to two or three family members.

When a widely broadcast ad tells us we can only love a precious few, when a script like that gets through the advertising department and the corporate higher ups, we have crossed into dangerous territory, a land where the T-word and his racism, bigotry, hatred, threats, and walls are elected – if not by the majority, still legally – to lead our country. Children like my grandson know and feel the poison for what it is, poison.

Feeling the love:

As I age, I witness my love expanding, seemingly on its own. Do I love the T-word’s cabinet appointees? No, but I don’t exactly hate them either. “Abhor” is a more accurate word.

I’ve become one of those women who has become gaga with love. This is not an abstraction, it is my reality. I touch it and feel it, even if I cannot explain it.

Do not tell me I can love only a precious few! That is bunk, a lie. It is wrong, it is the opposite of what I do and most people do. We love widely and deeply, and would love even more if we understood it as the natural and healthy way of living – if we had more courage, more encouragement, more faith in ourselves.

Love, beauty, and living aligned with your soul is as pragmatic as it can get. It is the only way we will survive.


What I Want: from Richard Gere to urban wolves

I want to lie, lazy and nearly naked, in the languid embrace of a sleeping lion with a scratchy mane, sweaty flanks, and the rank smell of wildness.

I want to regain for a moment the moment when I was 21 and walked into the sea wearing a black bikini of two 5″ bands across my white body and every head turned to watch.

I want the Israeli government and the Hamas and Fatah governments put on a boat and dumped on a small sandy island with only flowered shirts and baggy shorts to wear and packets of freeze dried hummus and bitter lemons dropped on them at random intervals. You might call it a blockade.

I want my ex-husband who is with a woman twenty years younger to know I’ve had the best sex of my life in the six years since I found out about her and left him.

I want Richard Gere to move in, wear white linen shirts, bake bread, and come up to me every day with a wine bottle in one hand, a glass in the other, and say, “Baby, I miss you.”

I want to swim again with the sea lion that whirled and twirled in front of me and looked into my eyes, stopping only to chase off two small sharks beneath us before returning to me to whirl and twirl again.

I want every poet, musician, artist, father, mother, farmer, and dreamer killed by war and violence – and all of their offspring who never were – to be returned to us.

I want addicts loved, the homeless sheltered, all sexes embraced, all ethnicities valued, and all children to be fed.

I want fewer liars and deceivers.

I want my dog to love me as much as he loves the people who take care of him when I am away even though I don’t walk him as much as they do or take him on paths where he sees deer.

I want the polar bears to survive, and wolves to proliferate so much that they enter urban centers, still with a glint in their eyes but politely moving to the side on sidewalks as they sniff out the nearest park with good water, or a coffee shop if they prefer.

I want to lie on my belly on new grass, my toes wiggling in a divot of mud, and hear the earth whisper that she will tend us the best she can even though we have not tended her.

I want the courage to hear the music that must exist across the cosmos of pain, grief, loss, desire, longing and even more of joy, brilliance, ecstasy, and light. I want it to permeate me but not vaporize me so I can return and try to tell others.

I want to accept. I want no child to lose his or her parents. I want love to prevail more often, more quickly, more evenly, and more obviously.

I want to hear every birdsong as though for the first time.

I want Richard Gere to move in, bake bread, and come up to me every day and say, “Baby, I miss you.”


Masked Ball on the Global Dance Floor

Dip, dive, whirl and swirl, three steps ahead, two back, feign and dodge. A waltz, a tango. Strobe lights bounce off mirrored balls hanging from the ceiling.

We are at a masked ball, reaching for the hand of one partner and then another, not sure who is behind each mask. See the fox face, rusty red? The noblewoman in black lace? Behind the column, is that magician kissing a ballerina en pointe?

A grizzly bear leads a lamb by a ribbon. An orangutan teases a leopard as a harlequin does handstands. Death is here, a scythe in one hand and the Mad Hatter in the other.

Nothing is as it seems, or perhaps everything is as it seems, which is the best disguise. We strive to see who is who and what is what in a cacophony of color, sound, and moving shapes. People disappear. Blood red dominates the smear of colors.

We strive to see behind the masks. Who is friend and who is foe? Who is aid and who is injury? We must be careful not to misjudge a friend as an enemy. Doesn’t misjudging or denying a friend create an enemy?

Sounds hit us, of guns, bombs, children crying. Louder is the silence, of hunger, kidnapping, destroyed cities, and of guilt.

Some people breech the chaos to tend children, refugees, the ill and starving, the bombed and shredded – those too vulnerable and wounded to have masks. Their faces are bare and tell us all.

My five-year-old granddaughter told me there are bad people in the world. “Pirates.”

“Pirates?” I asked.

“From Somali. There are pirates from Somali.”

I did not tell her that Somali pirates are among our lesser evils. Did the band just start playing “Pirates of Penzance”?

You want evil, I’ll tell you evil.

Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, any part of Syria, the killings and destruction in Gaza, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab in Kenya. And Yemen, the Congo, and, yes, Somali.

And ISIS. Members of ISIS wear ugly black masks, which is somehow more honest: I am a monster, I behead people.

The U.S. Congress appears more innocent, perhaps because sock hops appear innocent even when the dance floor is taken over by the popular high school kids who got C’s and D’s in science, math, and geography, while the nerds have their backs against the wall.

Ted Cruz heads key Senate committees and is running for president but doesn’t believe in global warming. Tom Cotton, who received $1 million from a conservative political group that supports military solutions for Israel, fancies himself a pen pal with foreign heads of state.

Congressional masks tend to look alike – fools with “This Space for Sale” printed across their foreheads. (The few good men in Congress are mainly women.)

At the global masked ball, dancers shift, weave, clash, sell arms, form unholy alliances, claim lands and people. Masks fall off and are grabbed again. (Think Netanyahu, though that mask might as well remain off. We have seen too much.)

And us? We who think we are good people? We who have trouble seeing through our own masks? We stumble. We fall. We try to regain our balance. We try to do our best.

Duck, there’s a drone overhead!

In the madness, this global confusion and anger and fear and camouflage, there is one sure line of sanity. That is to care for all children no matter what. All children must be safe from more than Somali pirates. They must be loved and protected and educated and allowed to dance beautiful dances together, in trust, in joy, in their full humanity, unwounded, unafraid, knowing we live best when we live in harmony.


Shoot first or never shoot?

For a brief period in the fall and winter of 1975 I simultaneously dated two men. One was David Hume Kennerly, the White House photographer for President Ford who received the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for his photography in Vietnam and Cambodia. The other was Richard (“Flashlight”) Gordon, a member of a religious commune in New York state and former teacher at Smith College.

David was a little miffed. I don’t remember it being as much about my seeing another man as by the choice of Richard, a dropout with long hair, drawstring pants, and sandals. The Vietnam war was over by only a few months. David had been on the frontlines, he had photographed death.

Once he called me from San Francisco and said there had been an assassination attempt less than an hour before on President Ford. His gut had told him to demand that Ford go around the back of his waiting car, not the front – a move that surely saved the President’s life. The bullet skimmed by David, who credited his gut with saving his life then and in Vietnam.

“Ask that guy you see,” David said, “what he would do if people were running at him and shooting at him.”

Me: “Flashlight, what you do if people were running at you and shooting at you?”

Flashlight: “If I had a gun, I’d shoot them first.”

This issue of shoot first or not at all is a tricky one. Just because both the Pulitzer Prize winner and an imitation yogi agreed on shooting first did not mean to me that it was the best thing to do. (I had also started going to the commune, which centered around universal love. The mice were caught in humane traps and transported off grounds.)

Most significantly, death is permanent. I’m not making a case for no life after death. I am saying that when your body dies you no longer walk, talk, eat, feel, think, dream, kiss, hold hands, study, go to school, go to theater, feed your children, have children, dance, sing, raise a family, make love. You’re dead.

We tend to slide over this fact in regards to other people, especially when the number of dead gets large, especially when we kill by drones, especially after we decide to hate them, especially if they have killed people we like or identify with, especially if they believe things we don’t believe, especially if we are afraid of them, and especially if we think they want to kill us.

Yet we never lose sight of the fact that we personally don’t want to die. We are fully and always aware when it comes to ourselves that death means the end of being here.

So, is it all about clearing the way so we feel we won’t have to die, at least not soon? Some Israelis said of Gaza that it occasionally needs mowing. It’s not that Israelis are meaner than other people. It’s the position they are in that includes fear, historical beliefs and harsh realities, isolation, and having the power at hand to “mow.”

Circumstances, real and imagined, affect how people – individually and collectively – perceive. In turn, what people perceive affects what they are willing to do to others, including to kill them. Given a potent dose of the “right” circumstances many, maybe most, people lose empathy. They become empathetically illiterate.

Look at ISIS. They perceive – literally live in – a different reality than most of us do. Their beliefs, which are circumstances, seal them inside a “truth” that gives them a mission and radical zeal. They want power and territory to bring the world into line with their image of truth and they will kill for it. You and I may not buy into their vision but they are pretty intent about it. They believe their perceived reality.

We could also say that we in the US perceive people are coming at us, and our friends and other good people, with the intent to kill us. It seems real from here. What can we do except shoot before they get here or before the number of dead becomes even more astronomical? Hold that question.

Why two beheadings was a catalyst instead of more than 140,000 dead Syrians and 900,000 Syrian refugees and displaced people is another question. Well, we know why. The beheadings were two from the US home team. Our empathic literacy only spoke English.

In the midst of this violent catastrophe we forget that all people are people are people are people and killing means real people die.

Our major flaw as human animals is that we forget that each of us is potential and future and love and art and creation and compassion and beauty. We forget our existence is an incomprehensible miracle, and it ends.

Given the stakes, you would think we would put more thought and action into creating circumstances where people perceive their good as invested in the good of others, where we give each other what we all need so we become friends and family, so it becomes unthinkable to kill each other.

But once the horror is underway, . . .  Well, I, too, would probably pick up the gun and shoot first if the option were between them and me. Certainly I would if it were between them and my family or friends. Now, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to save myself or family or friends if faced with murderous assault.

I know that in reality this is a moot point since I personally will never fight in a war and I will never own a gun, but if I am hypothetically willing to kill in some circumstances, how can I say my nation never can?

And I believe, faced with a choice between my death and that of a member of my family or a close friend, I would go on the sword. Hopefully this is never tested.

But it is tested endlessly around the world, isn’t it? Parents are constantly giving up their lives to save their children due to real and desperate circumstances. Average people do heroic things.

Can we average people do what is needed to prevent future wars and lessen the wars now around us?

Average people brought an end to the war in Vietnam even if it was late in the game. Such a futile stupid war.

Has there ever been a wise war? President Carter referred to war as sometimes a “necessary evil,” which raises the pertinent question of if wars can be prevented in advance by actions taken by you and me, average people.

Assuming the answer is “yes,” the most pertinent question is, are we willing to build communities across cultures, to minister to each other’s needs, and to become empathically literate in all languages?

It would take conscious evolution of our consciences, voluntary opening up, leaps of faith in ourselves and others, and going against our impulses to shut down and shut out. Many good people do peace-making work now. How do we build on their work to create a massive coalition of the willing? This is the question. What are the answers?

The question “shoot first or never shoot” must become obsolete, a relic of when we were more primitive. War photos of dead, wounded, and dying men, women, and children should only be seen in historical archives.



Slaughter, beauty, art, and obligation

In the fall of 1950 I arrived to school upset and angry. My parents had not told me we were at war and had been for months. They had treated me like a child, not bothering to tell me the horrendous news of people killing each other. What could possibly be larger or worse than war? How dare they.

I went immediately to the cloakroom where I asked Rosie, Jerry, David, and Tony if they knew we were at war. They did not. I told them it was with Korea, around the world.

Jerry said, “I’m going to be a soldier and I’ll fight and I’ll kill all the bad men.” He was punching his fists in the air. At that moment I realized he was a little boy with no understanding of what war was, that he didn’t even understand what death was. Existential isolation first hit me in the cloakroom of the second grade.

This memory has returned as people kill each other and allow others to kill. We in the U.S. blithely supply weapons for the killing. Death tolls are rounded to the nearest hundred or thousand and the accounting cannot keep up with reality.

But I am not feeling existential isolation. I, like most of us, feel the suffering that permeates our existential commonality. We live together in a world of blood, screams, decimation, death by weapons, hubris, callousness, arrogant self-justification, death close up, death by remote control, convenient self-delusion, and men who fight wars as though they were video games.*

We look for ways to cope, to put slaughter into a context that gives a modicum of relief. We protest, we give money, we write legislators, and we bombard Facebook. We use activism as an antidote to despair.* (I receive more or less 30 posts, videos, photos from Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel each day.)

This onslaught has brought me to a rare place – writer’s block – something I have seldom if ever experienced. This is my sixth attempt to write in over a week. The block does not come from nothing to say, but from too much to say, and that many brilliant writers and analysts are saying it far better than I could.

So what is my part? I cannot bear not helping, but what have I uniquely to give? And if I have nothing uniquely to add, should I simply wait, breath, cry, and pray in the quiet breathing sort of way that I do? It seems impossible to write blogs that are simply amusing.

An answer of sorts has come – a work in progress certainly – that I have only the personal to give. This feels, in one way, like a travesty, an indulgence, an eating of a fruit tart on the edge of a room with body parts in the middle. Do we eat it looking to the floor, to the corner, or to the middle?

Do I exaggerate? No, it feels that strange.

Am I too in-your-face? Perhaps, but at least I am writing again.

And what grants this writing is that I know I am not alone in the agitated distress of those of us who are witnesses. Because we care, we, too, are injured. We hurt.

I have come to that among the things we can do – in addition to protesting, giving money, writing, and other forms of activism – is to remember, even latch onto, beauty and to fiercely participate in creations that transcend devastation.

To state: This is not a time to shop – an obscenity coming out of materialistic responses to slaughter – but a time to embrace, rediscover, and express our creative “better angels” in order to heal and strengthen ourselves and to hold possibility for those who suffer. This is not a time to whimper.

If humans are both savage and divine, we must “activate” our impulses to create harmony and embrace light. We must not be afraid of the startling and cleansing power of light (ours from inside and that that feels as though it comes from outside of ourselves), and we must not feel it is shallow of us to create art or go to a concert when our friends are being killed. Our job is remain conscious of the suffering of others as we tether that suffering to creations offered to us by others or from us to others.

This is a time to write poetry, to create songs, and to paint. This is a time to listen to poetry, to listen to music, to go to galleries. It is a time to make delicate meals, create labyrinths for your children, carry and distribute chocolates, look deeply into flowers, and to dance. These actions may lift us into tears or laughter, but they will help us heal and they will spread. This, in the hands of a master, produces Guernica. This, in the hands of the rest of us, is a power that can change the world.

My grandson told me that humans are the weirdest animals because we talk and we create things. He turned seven two days ago, he is the age Jerry was when he going to kill the bad men. He is smarter than Jerry was, but I do not want him to know people are killing other people. I, like my parents, like all parents, want to protect the children.

Ah, the children. Ah, the children.

We are savages and we allow savagery, but we are also the vessels that divinity has to work with to bring joy and peace.

An Israeli on my Facebook, one of numerous new “friends,” occasionally posts a photo of an Israeli being arrested for protesting against the destruction of Gaza, but more often he posts incongruent beauty – a curve of a violin, a song, the inlaid decoration of a harpsichord. I have come to understand why. Each posting is a candle of beauty that has been, beauty that is, and beauty that will be.

To “never forget” horror is one thing, but to “always remember” our divinity – our better angels – is imperative. It is the stuff of personal and global salvation. We must take it out of the realm of possibility and into the world of reality. We must create beauty, harmony, acknowledgment, love, and forgiveness that can be touched, felt, heard, and seen. We must remind ourselves and others that transcending is something people do. It came in our package. We weirdest of animals can re-create the world for the better.


* “men playing video games” and “activism as antidote” are credited to Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, author, and Jungian analyst, who called during the writing of this post.


The Post of a Newborn Radical

Sometime last week I realized that I no longer have any truck with anyone who kills other people. I don’t care who you are, what your history is, what land you think is yours, what happened yesterday or 2000 years ago, or what orders you are following. None of it matters. You kill someone, the blood is on your hands. Killing is a personal thing.

The only thing that matters is that the number of human beings who justify killing others, especially children, must be marginalized. Put them all together on a large ship, give them a small island-less section of ocean, take away their arms, drop them protein bars, and let them growl at each other. No outside connection. We, the rest of the world, don’t want to hear from them.

Returning to the personal: We don’t want to hear how moral you are, how you are forced to defend yourself, how your religion is the true religion, how other people are savages who offer up their children to your bombs, how it is the other people who are racists, how vengeance is called for, how you have no choices.

We also don’t want to hear you yelling at children at borders to go away, or how you must defend your right to have guns, or how poor people are freeloaders, or how health care for everyone violates some rights you construed from a piece of paper written over 200 years ago, and we don’t want to see you parading around with assault weapons over your shoulders in grocery stores or anywhere else.

We – I, at least – don’t want to hear it, see it, smell it, touch it, or be killed by it.

We might drop you bags of chocolate in our relief to have you where you stop harming other people.

It’s possible that nothing I said above was politically correct, but to be totally clear – I’m willing to take the minority that has been killing Syrians, re-butchering Iraqis, kidnapping girls, shooting passenger planes out of the sky, imprisoning journalists and human rights advocates in multiple nations, slaughtering Gazans, and, yes, sending missiles into Israel and I would put them all on a boat. A caravan of boats if necessary, but definitely under siege with no possibility of getting out. It seems to be a fashion.

We could even drop in movies for them to see. Things like “Rambo” and “Apocalypse Now”. They’d like that.

Then we could love and care for each other across the borders. Can someone explain to me the purpose of borders? I don’t get it anymore. Suddenly borders make no sense.

We could have peace and help each other. We could have safe food, equitable opportunity, art, music, dance, education for everyone – and what is the thing again about dinosaurs being in the garden of eden or something like that? We could reinstate science and learning as having dominion over fantasy.

We could save our damaged planet with sustainable fuels and care for our animals. There is no reason, no God-given or human-given reason why we cannot have peace. NONE. It is all a farce, it is a charade propagated by people who do not know that they are the problem.

I want all the religions – if they must exist – to share their sacred temples and sacred books and for all of us to wander amongst each other like it’s one big happy picnic. Some hummus, some wafers, some incense, a few cows strolling about, some holy-rollers – probably no live snakes.

I want the haters to go away. It would make it so much easier to love them if they weren’t constantly harming us and others.

We could provide lounge chairs, even wet suits, snorkels. They could face off with the sharks just to keep their hand in.

Let them bore (perhaps “boar” is the word) each other with their rhetoric about how they are more justified in hating others while simultaneously being more righteous than others. Let them all grow beards.

Oh, now that’s interesting. I have pictured them all as men. Bet you did, too.

Or maybe it’s not interesting at all.

What’s really sad is that they would all think they were there by mistake. But you and I wouldn’t have to know about it. We would be at the picnic creating beautiful lives together.


. . . then someone took my balloons

Approximately 12:15 pm yesterday I locked my Lexus hybrid in the underground parking garage of the Giant food store at Van Ness center in Washington, DC. I then opened the trunk with the “power door” button on my key to get my recycle bags, remembered I didn’t need them, and closed the door. After all, I was only getting helium balloons for my grandson’s 7th birthday party today. My daughter said this was the place.

She was right. The balloon selection, immediately inside the door, was great. I bought five in solid colors – red, blue, orange, purple, yellow – with large white polka dots and the words “Happy Birthday” on them. I also bought two large metallic balloons in multi-colors, one of which was 3’ long and shaped like a trumpet.

I went directly to the checkout counter and back to my car. This is where the trouble began. My keys were not in my small purse. The car was locked with my smartphone sitting on the passenger’s seat.

I tied the balloons to my car door and retraced my steps to search where I’d been – with two clerks, the checkout person, and a couple customers. Then I went to the “Solution” counter, i.e. customer service. By the end of the day I made four more trips to that counter to see if keys – a large clump of keys – had been turned in.

The first taxi driver

Around 1:15 I hailed a taxi to take me home to get my emergency key – a flat key that snaps into a plastic form about the thickness of three credit cards. I had had this key for five years without needing it.

It was the worst taxi ever. Filthy and smelly with a 5”-wide swatch of exposed electrical wires at my feet, banana peels between the front seats (amidst who knows what else), no a.c., and the little passenger television that has continuous loops of inane quizzes with plastic-looking t.v. hosts was on full blast. I interrupted the driver who was doing his own loud unending loop into his ear phone to turn it off or down. He said it was broken and could not be turned down or off. I told myself this is heaven compared to Gaza.

Once home I got my emergency key and we returned to the car. (I would have taken another taxi except there are no taxis right where I live.)

Back to the car

The emergency key did not work. Even though it was labeled with my name, it belonged to a Lexus I sold five years before. Presumably the owners have the emergency key I needed.

I went outside to catch a second taxi to take me home again to find a spare key that I have been vaguely aware that I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, but it had to be somewhere, right?

Arjuna, or the second taxi driver

Arjuna drove the second taxi. Arjuna, named I presume after the converser with Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, was my angel. His cab was spotless, air conditioned, and we said “How are you?” at the same moment and laughed. This, I thought, is the opposite of Gaza.

Arjuna also had surround sound phone speakers that I ended up using a lot. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Arjuna started praying for me that I would find my spare “regular” key. I ran into the house and went through every little box and pencil cup I had, plus several purses. His prayers were not enough. There was no key.

I sat in front of my house in Arjuna’s cool crisp taxi and tried to collect myself. The numbers of the people I needed to call were, of course, in the memory of my iphone locked inside my car.

But, smarty under stress that I am, I remembered my daughter’s number and called her on skype from my ipad. No answer. She was at her aerial class. My daughter does acrobatics while hanging from large ribbons. I texted my plight. She texted back with the 800 telephone number of the “help me whenever wherever” desk at Lexus, and Arjuna called them on his surround sound phone. So nice.

The “help me whenever wherever” desk couldn’t locate me or my car – common name, various moves, no vin number –  but let me know that my regular roadside assistance with them would have expired after four years.

Arjuna dialed my friend Mike for me (number supplied by my daughter down once again from the ribbons), who called Tony my accountant and then called me back. No, I did not have roadside assistance coverage with my car insurer.

Arjuna drove me back to my car and assured me that God was watching out for me: “Think of all the real suffering in the world. This is just a bad day.”

He then called two locksmiths to compare prices. Who knew that locksmith companies use the same free-roaming people to unlock locks? They network, and they get angry if you call more than one place. They call you and ask “How many locksmiths did you call?” and if you don’t give the right answer, i.e.“Only one other and I want you, and you alone” they hang up on you in surround sound.

Yvan drove up around 4:30. Arjuna handed me off to him with tenderness and care.

Yvan, the locksmith

I jumped in the passenger seat of Yvan’s van with “Locksmith” written on the side and we turned into the parking garage. First step: push the button to get the ticket that will lift the arm so you can enter. Instead Yvan turned to me and said, as closely as I remember: “Hello, I’m Yvan, I’m Israeli, we’re not going to pay this.” He argued with the man in the cubicle but eventually took a ticket.

His next words to me were “What do you do?”

I felt myself flinch slightly and edge to the door, “I started a peace organization.”

Yvan: Oh, so we’re on different sides. . . . he smiled.

(How, how, how is this happening?)

Me: I don’t know.

Yvan, as we turned the first corner going down: Are you Jewish?

Me: No, but I marry Jewish.

Yvan: You marry Jews?

Me: Yes. My car is over there.The one with the balloons tied to the door.

At the point where Yvan set off the car alarm in the unsuccessful attempt to open the driver’s door, he shouted, “This is nothing compared with the noise in Israel right now.”

(I tell myself I will say nothing about Gaza until he gets my car unlocked.)

Me: I guess not.

Yvan: I was in the Israeli military for three years.

Me: Oh. (Anyone with experience with the Israeli military would already know this – the shaved head, posture, health, and strength. It’s a look. The abruptness. It’s a style.)

Yvan – Hebrew for “John” – did get the passenger door open. I retrieved my phone, which had 12% battery on it. There were, as I was 95% certain, no keys in the car.

Yvan was about to leave me standing, after I paid an exorbitant amount, by my dead car with the passenger door open (he said if we shut it, it would lock again) when he said, “Where do you want to go?”

Me: I don’t know. I need a moment to think.

He looked closer at me: I don’t have any other jobs in line, I could take you home.

Me: Oh, so now you’re the nice Jew? (Yes, I really said that.)

He laughed. He took me home, though not without arguing with the man in the cubicle and somehow distracting him on a related subject, and when we drove out without paying he said – I swear – it works if you just distract them.

Yvan called towing services. The first company hung up because he wouldn’t tell them what kind of car I had on the theory that they would charge more for a Lexus. With the second company he told them it was a Toyota. They said they would be there in an hour.

One hour gave me time to get home, get 20 minutes of recharge on both my iphone and ipad (taking no chances), quickly walk my dog, call the Lexus drop off place, and get a list of food items for the birthday party to my daughter since I was failing miserably at this responsibility.

It also gave me time to challenge Yvan who was intent on convincing me how compassionate the Israeli Defense Force is, and how all of Hamas wanted all Israelis dead, and how Hamas targeted civilians but Israel warns people before bombing.

I said: You are missing information. Do you know 10 or so Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military in the month or two before the three settler youth were kidnapped and killed?

Yvan: That’s not true.

Me: Yes, it is. There are videos of two Palestine young men just walking by Ofer prison – you know, where the prisoners are on hunger strike – who were killed by snipers. It’s all on the video, they were just walking by, no one else around. Killed, dead, down.

Yvan: We don’t have snipers.

Me: Okay, prison guards then, the guys in the towers at Ofer.

Yvan: So what were these guys doing before then? What were they throwing? They must have done something.

Me: Nope, want me to send you the video? They were just walking by, not even looking up. You see them hit. They’re not talking to anyone. No one else was around. They’re walking next to the prison wall at about the distance from where you’re sitting to that tree.

Yvan: Sure, send me the video.

Me: Okay, you let me know what you know and I’ll let you know what I know.

Giving him credit, he did bring up that he understood that Israel had taken “their” land and that resentment was justified. He also seemed to like Fatah in the West Bank and made sure I understood his father’s very best friend lived in Jenin. His father is a mechanical engineer and they had some business together. (I did not bring up the ongoing weekly nonviolent protests against the occupation in Jenin, but did say “business together is the fastest road to peace.” He shook his head yes.)

I ran into the house and returned to give him a copy of the book “Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women” in English, Hebrew and Arabic. (Get it at Amazon.) I tell him, “I was the editor, photographer, and primary interviewer.”

Yvan: Wow, this is a real book.

Me: That it is.

Back to the garage

At 6:25 my daughter and son-in-law took me back to the Giant grocery store, before going on to a party. She went in with me, to the Solutions desk, then the garage.

I said: Someone took my balloons! Someone took the balloons! They were tied right here, right here on the door. Someone took them!


At 6:45 Lee pulled up in front from District Towing. I rode with him pass the man in the cubicle. He took the ticket with no hesitation.

Lee: Where is your car?

Me: One level down. It had balloons tied to the door, but someone took them.

Lee, seeing the car: My boss said it would be a Toyota.

Me: The call was placed by the locksmith. He might have been confused. (Yeah, right.) Are you going to be able to get it out of here?

Lee: No problem.

I adore Lee. We talked about the amazing technology of modern day towing, how the little towing wheels go under the car’s back wheels and pump them up, and how it all clicks into place.

Me: Any chance you’re going through town?

Lee: Sure, need a ride?

Me: Would love it.

(I contemplated asking him to wait while I ran inside and bought more balloons, but figured he was being too nice for me to ask for anything more.)

7:15, walking home

Lee let me out a few blocks from my home. Such a beautiful summer night. My car would be going around Dupont Circle as couples strolled hand in hand and ate at outside cafes.

I let the balm soak into me. And, once home, I went out again with my dog who like me was slightly crazed, and I thought of the bombing and killing of people far away and so very close.

The birthday party

We had 15 children and 14 adults here this morning. There were no balloons, but my grandson didn’t notice. He was happy and surrounded by his best friends – I didn’t know he had that many, and he taught me how to play “Ghost in the Graveyard” where if the chosen “ghost” looks at you, you can only breath, sneeze, cough, or blink, or you become a ghost’s helper.

Twelve miles away my Lexus has a note on it with my name, telephone number, and the words “NO!!! Keys.” I expect to hear from them tomorrow morning.

The pain in the world right now, the violence, the imbecilic belief that there are reasons to kill other people . . . I am haunted. All those people praying to stay alive, to keep breathing, sneezing, coughing, and blinking, and not become ghost’s helpers. All those people.

Memorial Day in Real Time . . . oh, dear

You have to get this setting. I’m in the upscale restaurant on the ground level of my hotel at the corner of State Street and Washington Street, Chicago, trying to find the mildest thing on the menu.

No, they don’t have chicken soup. No, they have no side dish of steamed spinach to substitute for a salad. Yes, they can make the veggie burger, substituting the Boursin for a chèvre, and leaving off the creme fraiche. Yes, they do have mint tea.

Outside, people are gathering for the Memorial Day parade due to arrive momentarily. I can see nothing from my seat in the restaurant. It is a window seat but on the wrong side. I look across the restaurant out the far windows and see the backs of standing people. Chicago seems to be a patriotic town, we need northern patriotic towns, I think.

I am here for the wedding of a dear friend. His first, her first. He is 64, I don’t know how old she is but it’s reasonable. He is the oldest of a brood of Irish Catholic siblings. She is the oldest of Japanese-American siblings. They are being married in a United Methodist church across from Daley Plaza and the Picasso statue. The church has magnificent stained class windows. I cried, though no one knew, at the rehearsal last night. Oh my, people with faith in each other and life.

I hear drums, masses of drums, and see the tops of flags, lots of flags. I see the top of a float of the Illinois state seal.

I have a tummy ache. Hence, the mint tea. This is my first meal in 24 hours.

No one in the restaurant looks out even though many hundreds came to line the street and the television station scaffolding is right outside. Theoretically we are at the apex. I hear trumpets.

Let’s talk about war. My veggie burger has arrived. Thick, predominantly brown rice and mushrooms, a limited thing.

War sucks. War would not be necessary if humans were more clever, particularly if Americans, the people with money, were more clever, and kind, and far thinking, and not, in sum, ridiculous in our choices and closing of our hearts. We cheat our own, so I guess it makes sense that we believe people who aren’t us are “outsiders” better left alone until they attack us.

I’m not saying all war is avoidable. There are people who do evil in the world. I have dear friends who believe in strands and stains of evil. Mostly I say there are humans who try to avoid being “merely” human, who want to feel they are so much stronger than others that they are safe despite the dumbbell they see reflected in the mirror – the dumbbell they think they are because they didn’t discover the Grand Unified Theory, or can’t sing like Pavoratti, or run a three-minute mile.

More drums, more flags.

Or they aren’t rich or . . . Oh, I see the tops of rifles going by.

Or they aren’t . . . whatever.  So they go rigid and fundamental. (All extremists are fundamentalists in one way or another.)

And then the rest of us (we do like to think we are on the good side and God really does prefer us) have to fight back, to protect ourselves, or whatever.

I am the only soul in this restaurant who is looking up and out the window. Oh, mimosas, salmon, Eggs Benedict, and salade nicoise, how privileged you are!

People die in wars.

More flags, a gap in the crowd, I see the American Legion.

People die in wars, mangled, cut short, leaving children and spouses, and futures. And that’s just the fighters. And now more civilians die in wars than fighters. Women crouched down to protect their children and standing up and running to get water. Children who play with spent shells.

More flags. A float. Was that the mayor?

I don’t believe in war. I do believe in marriage between people who love each other. I believe in mint tea. I believe in mint tea for tummy aches and heart aches.

I believe in the nations with substance acting in ways that prevent war in the first place. But that depends on people caring about others in real time, seeing the needs, and tending each other early.

I am proud of the people who serve. I can’t bear that we need to fight because we didn’t tend.

More drums, more flags.

Rifles and berets.

The wedding is in an hour, I must leave here and get ready.

A marching bane, white tubas, red uniforms, flags twirled by majorettes.

. . .


I stepped outside, went to the corner to get you a photo of flags, and inside of three minutes I am interviewed on t.v. (complete with my name) as to what I see as the most crucial question facing Chicago today. “I’ve only been here three days but from what I see Chicago is a vibrant robust city.”

imageAnd an Indian woman waving an American flag then introduced herself as a commentator for 17 years, now a doctor, and the great-granddaughter of Gandhi, “the great freedom fighter for India.” “Yes, I know of Gandhi.”

Gandhi, the icon of non-violence. You cannot make this stuff up even if you don’t know what to make of it.

I now look out from my hotel window on the 9th floor, a float is going by of paralyzed veterans.