Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Note to self: how are you?

Sometime in early January, I put a note on my calendar; specifically a note on March 28th that read as follows: "How are you?"

March 28th marks three months since my Mom died. Like many people, I have picked up the daily responsibilities that don't go away, no matter how numb I feel. I've rejoined the workplace and have found equal measures of distraction and panic there over these past three months.

I've felt bereft and heartbroken. I've wanted time to pass quickly so the loss would feel softer and more distant; I've wanted time to stop completely so I could just sit quietly with my sadness and give it its due.

So, Renee, how are you?

I've wanted to call my Mom just about every day; sometimes several times a day, and many evenings when I had time on my hands and knew she would enjoy a story about something that had happened that day. I've wanted to give her extremely good news and have her celebrate with me; I've wanted to share frustrations and feel her comfort. I wanted to hear about her day; her stories about her lifelong friends she saw regularly; her updates from her many visits to half a dozen doctors.

Events that are coming up, including Easter (when she still insisted on coloring eggs every year and putting out baskets of candy), my son's senior recital that would find her bursting with pride, and the births of two babies that are due to join our family this summer, will all be missing one tiny scrap of happiness for me because she won't share them and take absolute joy in in each of them.

But really, how are you?

I'm a little different than I was three months ago. I've lost a touchstone of sorts; a person who could be my rock, my cheerleader, my sounding board and my challenger, always accompanied by unconditional love. The new me has one less lifelong friend in the world; someone who knew me like no one else does.

In between the meetings with the attorney; or my niece who is selling Mom's house; or the insurance companies who never seem to request everything they need from me at one time, I try to separate the pile of paperwork from the emotions that pile up and then crash from time to time. I've apologized to my husband and sons for being distracted and upset about "estate" things that tend to take over my life from time to time; and have thanked God for their understanding.

The questions don't seem to stop. Unanswerable, of course: questions like why I didn't do one thing or another for her, why I didn't insist on doing one thing or another instead of accepting her resolute nature about what she could do on her own.

Some of the questions are specific: why didn't I go clean her house once a week? Why wouldn't I have made it my job to pick up her groceries and run her errands? Why didn't I help her organize her basement while she and I could have laughed together about the chaos that my Mom preferred to think of as temporary until she could "get to it."

Why didn't I ever buy her an amazing hat and take her to the Kentucky Derby, her favorite sporting event of all time?

Not one of these things was on her list of "things Renee didn't do for me." It's all on me; I know that. But they're all part of my answer to the original question: how are you?

I'm hanging in. Doing what needs to be done. I'm laughing; I'm crying. I'm not great but I guess I'm okay. I miss her.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Remember these outrages? Yeah, well - we're still all worked up, all the time. Just about different stuff now.

NOTE: I've been reading about how people want everyone to take a break from the outrage swirling around us daily and thought about a column I wrote - in 2005. There may well be no new stories; only new details filling in the same old story.

Read on for the column and feel free to substitute the 'apologist / offended party du jour.' It's kind of fun.

I’d like to propose a new official day for the public’s general approval. Let’s make every other Wednesday “give no apology / demand no apology” day. That wouldn’t be too tough, would it?

I’ve about had it with apologies being demanded by everyone from everyone else these days. I’m going to guess that the human race has been offending each other for centuries but it seems like the outcry we hear for apologies has never been more prevalent than it is today.

I did a very brief search of people making news with their demands for an apology over the past few months. Believe me, there were scores of them to choose from. Here’s a very quick list:

Al Sharpton demanded an apology from Vincente Fox, President of Mexico, for his comments regarding jobs held by illegal immigrants in this country

The G.O.P. has demanded an apology from Nancy Pelosi for her verbal attack on President Bush

Hillary Clinton has demanded an apology from Karl Rove and the G.O.P.

Islamic groups have called from an apology from evangelist Pat Robertson for his remarks that disparage American Muslims

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has demanded an apology from Senator Dick Durbin for his comments about prison conditions and treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay

Billionaire George Soros has demanded an apology from House Speaker Dennis Hastert for implying that at least some of Soros’ money comes from illegal drug operations

Brooke Shields wants Tom Cruise to apologize for his remarks about depression and prescription drugs

Both North Korea and Iran have demanded apologies for different reasons from the United States

Estonia has demanded an apology from Russia

High school graduate Thomas Benya has requested an apology from his school’s officials after they withheld his diploma because he wore a bolo tie to his graduation ceremony.

My plea for ‘Give no / Get no apology Wednesdays’ won’t get very far. If you want to make headlines, you can try one of two things these days: do or say something that deeply offends someone or be the offended party that responds to it. I may as well join in. As the offended party, I’d like to demand the following apologies, even if they don’t earn any headlines:

From Anna Nicole Smith - I want an apology from both you and your agent for your “appearance” at the Live 8 concert in Philadelphia.

From Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for announcing her plans for retirement and giving our esteemed representatives in Washington a whole new reason to get up in the morning and snipe at each other from across the aisle in the Capitol Building. You’ve also opened the door for a whole new level of pundit diatribes for a few months. Thanks.

From Marina Bai, a Russian astrologer - an astrologer - who is suing NASA because their probe’s crash into a comet has “deformed her horoscope” and caused her “moral suffering.” Her lawsuit is causing me moral suffering. She’s asking for $300 million to restore the order in her life.

From Mark Felt - Am I the only person in America who kinda liked not knowing who Deep Throat was? What’s next? The singers from The Archies will come forward and claim responsibility for “Sugar Sugar?”

From Hyoung Won, inventor of the “fetus phone” - a device that acts as a cell phone and a portable monitor. A pregnant woman can capture and upload photos of her baby moving, and record the heartbeat while he or she grows. Just stop it. Right now. Can’t we bond with our babies without creating a website about them for God’s sake?

I can only quote French mime Marcel Marceau to try to put an end to all these pronouncements of moral outrage and the indignant requests for apologies for the same: “It’s good to shut up sometimes.” If only more people took his advice.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

One woman's dream: we all polish in peace. It could happen, right?

Thanks to my friend Karen, and a story she posted on Facebook, I was reminded of two incidents from my past. Yes, once again – these are flying stories.

After reading the report of this woman’s arrest and detention, I can only thank God I emerged from my own civil disobedience with my non-arrest record intact, and not all that long ago. I chalk it all up to good old-fashioned civility. Read on and let me know if you agree.

This story happened more than ten years ago; well before 9/11. As passengers, we were pretty far from the myriad restrictions and constant high-alert most of us are accustomed to these days. On this particular day, I was one of the first people on the plane for an early morning flight to Chicago, courtesy of my frequent flier status. (Attaining “elite” status earned me “priority seating,” and I could board the plane before many of the other passengers. In other words, frequent fliers get the privilege of spending more time on the plane than non-frequent fliers. This is what airlines consider a reward.)

So picture this: I’m sitting on a nearly empty plane with nothing but time plus a lowered tray table in front of me. That meant one thing: time to polish my nails. Bear in mind I had done this dozens and dozens of times before in exactly the same situation. I was also well aware of the fact that the aroma of nail polish isn’t entirely pleasant, and could possibly aggravate allergies in some passengers. But because I was usually seated early, patiently waiting for the entire plane to board, I had time to start, finish and recap the bottle well before everyone was seated and the doors were closed. While traveling, I usually opted for a pale pink to minimize obvious strokes or visible mistakes.

Everything was going as planned. I had finished nine of my fingers when a female flight attendant stopped next to me and said, “You can’t polish your nails on a plane.” I thought she meant I couldn’t do it because of turbulence or some other kind of impediment, so I cheerfully replied, “Oh, it’s no problem. I do it all the time.” But I heard her wrong. She didn’t mean “can’t” because I wasn’t skilled enough. She meant “can’t” because she wouldn’t allow it. She was clearly worked up because she said again, just a bit more (read: much more) forcefully, “You can’t polish your nails on a plane.” Now, as I said, I had done nine. I had one pinky finger left.

Nope. She would have no part of this anarchy on her watch. I capped the bottle and put it away. Note that not one passenger had complained about this activity. And also that the doors weren’t closed for at least another 15 minutes. I simply complied with her ridiculous rule, but not without registering at least a little annoyance.

Once I was in the cab in Chicago, I did the last nail. Whatever.

I am nothing if not resilient. I am not a quitter. And, in the language of the grade school play yard: “She’s not the boss of me.” Which meant that the next time I took an early morning flight – same airline by the way – I again boarded early, dropped down the tray table, and started my touch up ritual with the pale pink polish.

Oh no – not again. This time, a male flight attendant stopped by my seat and started in on what I anticipated would be “the speech.” I cut him off and said, “You’re not going to tell me I can’t polish my nails on a plane, are you? Because honestly, I’m just about done here.” He seemed surprised at my response, then smiled and said, “No, I was just going to say, ‘Nice shade.’ ”

I loved him. And this little exchange taught me two things: At least back then, this kind of “no polish” rule was completely arbitrary and random. And that the female flight attendant hated working with the public. Or hated female passengers. Or hated female passengers who used their downtime on a plane to do a little grooming.

All I know is that no one detained me when I exited the aircraft. No one questioned me or arrested me because I disagreed with the flight attendant and spoke sharply to her.

I realize times were different in 1997 or 1998. I realize the world has become a scarier place with scarier people, at that’s not even counting everyone outside of Washington. But here’s the thing: can’t we all please just have one moment of sanity, clear-thinking and common sense when it comes to this kind of faux outrage and hysteria over something as ridiculous as this story? Nail polish? She was arrested over using nail polish and having an argument with a flight attendant? Are you kidding? Are you f--king kidding me?

Everyone needs to just get the hell over themselves. The only person who thinks about you every day, and worries about everything that happens to you, and is concerned that everyone treats you fairly and honestly and kindly and nicely, and will always, always, always see your side of things, and thinks that you are absolutely right in all ways about all things at all times … is you. And possibly your mother.

But I guarantee you that even the mothers of this flight attendant, the polish-wielding passenger, and the airport security officer would tell each of them to settle down and try being polite for a change. What a concept.