Saturday, November 28, 2015


     Ever since my sister was a teenager, she knew she wanted to help people.  She didn't know how, and she didn't know where, but that's what she'd talk about when you asked her what she wanted to do with her life - which is a loaded question, to be sure.  Her path took a little bit longer than some, but she worked her ass off in school, working full time and being the third parent in our household.  I'm incredibly proud of her.  She's thoughtful, caring and very generous.  My children are so lucky that she is theirs.
     It only makes sense that she would channel that need to help and care for others into a career as a social worker.  She secured an internship working for the VA her last semester of graduate school.  They were so impressed they offered her a job, and almost a decade later, she's still there - working tirelessly to support her veterans.  That's what she calls them, her veterans, my guys.  Whenever we talk about work, the stresses of our day, she talks about her guys.
     She's extremely professional and never breaks confidentiality, never lets a name slip out.  There's a ton of paperwork, just as you would imagine there would be for such a ginormous bureaucracy/corporation.  It often surprises me how all encompassing her job is.  Obviously, she has to go to where the guys are, so she does group home visits, takes them to their doctor appointments, talks to their caregivers.  If they move to a new group home, she's the one that moves them.  I thought she meant that she arranged their transportation and the dates, but I was wrong.  She loads the boxes with their belongings into her car or a van and literally moves them into their new place.  She's got to have all those difficult conversations, as well.  From their emotional and mental stability, to hygiene and physical issues, she has to cover the gamut of questions to make sure she catches any potential problems - so she can protect her guys and do the best job possible.
     At the beginning of this week, she was driving two of her veterans in her car to their doctor appointments, one in the front seat and the other in the back.  They were all chatting about Thanksgiving and their plans.  She had stopped at Dunkin Donuts for them and had just gotten back on the freeway.  After a few minutes, the veteran sitting next to her suddenly became silent, head dropping to his chest. She tried to get a response, find a pulse in his wrist, but she couldn't.  The veteran in the back checked the man's throat and thought he felt something faint.  She called for help, but she feared she was too far from the next hospital, so she quickly turned and headed back to the emergency care unit at her building.  A dozen people met her car when she pulled up, and they tried to revive him but to no avail.  Her veteran had died next to her, in the front seat of her car.
     She's been around death before, but never like this.  We were all together, sisters and brother, when we watched Mom die in her hospital room seven years ago.  She's had other veterans die, some due to health conditions and some by their own hand, the demons brought back from serving their country having finally been silenced.  But she's never had another human die inches from her while she was desperately trying to get them help.  I told her that it must have been a comfort to his family that his last moments were spent with her, safe and relaxed.  He hadn't expressed any discomfort or pain to her.  He was there one moment and then gone.  His family was grateful that she was able to give them that assurance.
     On Thursday, I fed her and talked when we could, as the children ran in and out of the room.  She didn't want to upset them, to make them feel like they had to comfort her on the holiday.  She's been offered therapy and a great deal of support at work, but for now she wants to deal with it herself.  These unexpected traumas, they bloom out like ink on paper, making the sadness harder to escape.  If you have a moment, I humbly ask if you would offer a prayer, a candle, a loving thought to whatever you hold dear, whatever brings you succor, for my sister.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


     My friends, I am broken anew tonight, awash in grief.  There are so many cities swimming in grief from the dead and wounded. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away the lines are being sharply drawn on whether the support is fake or real, heartfelt or hypocritical.  Add to that swift pronouncements from governors in 31 states in the US saying they won't "accept" Syrian refugees.  I found this CNN article helpful:  

     To summarize, refugee admittance to the country rests not with the individual states but with the federal government.  By refusing to cooperate though, they can make it much more difficult.  1,500 Syrian refugees have come here since 2011. 250,000 have died since the war broke out and more than 22 million people have fled their homes.
     The same social media that quickly told us to #PrayforParis is now giddily swimming with commentators reveling in keeping Syrian refugees out.  This country was built on people escaping persecution, war, famine and death.  I have no doubt my father's ancestors came here to escape the potato famine, and I'm equally sure they weren't all completely law abiding citizens.  My maternal grandfather was Scotch-Canadian, fell in love with my grandmother, an American, and renounced his citizenship to stay with her and fight for the US Army during WWII.  We are a nation of immigrants, remember ... "Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me"
     My grief comes not from this hypocrisy but from this article: 

     Most war photography is gripping, but these children, these poor babies are not only an unfortunate fact of war but an undeniable example of the depravity of humanity.  If you can look at these faces and still tell me that we can't find some way to help, to save them, then I fear that there may be no hope for us.  Look in Tamam's eyes, as she lies there with her too aged 5 year old eyes, fearing that as her head touches the pillow the bombs will now come.  Look at the Pietà that is Sham and his mother.  The tiny bruised toes of Gulistan.
     Do we turn our backs on these people, on these children?  If you cluck your tongue at me or chide me at my sentimentality, tell me that we can't be too careful ... then we have lost our humanity.  Do not tell me that you are a religious person, a spiritual person, if you feel this way.  No God I know, or have read about, would agree with you.  There is more and more darkness coming, and we must be on the side of light, of hope, before a generation is lost.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris & the World

     Yesterday morning at work, one of our clients was sending funds to family in France.  My co-worker was having difficulty and asked for a second set of eyes to look the work over.  At one point, the client called his family member to double check the information she had given him.  Back and forth in french over the phone line he explained what he needed.  I couldn't stop smiling and my co-worker noticed.  She asked if I could understood what was going on and if I could reply.  I told her that I understood and could reply a little, but unfortunately I was out of practice.  When he got off the phone, we had our answer and everything came out as expected.
     A year or so ago, I wrote about how much I love to hear languages in action.  It springs from my love of the french language.  I was very fortunate that I was able to start taking a foreign language in the 6th grade; they gave us three choices - spanish, french or german.  We probably should have all been strongly encouraged to choose spanish, because I could use that on a daily basis, but I picked what I hoped would be a romantic dream come true, seeing Paris one day.
     I loved french class, my french teacher and the way the words sounded in my mouth.  Mlle. Chalmbers gave us new names for class, but there was no appropriate translation for Heather, so she called me Gigi.  I loved her.  She praised my pronunciation.  I loved her more.  She told us a motto that she held dear, "If it is to be, it is up to me."  I embraced those words completely, eventually posting them over my desk throughout college.  By the time we got to senior year, there were only 5 of us left that had stuck with her and with the language.  The high school didn't want to offer it to us, but we agreed to sit in the back of the junior year class.  We read novels, talked to each other, studied (all in french, of course) - it was lovely.  By that point a Madame, Mme. Chalmbers, organized a trip to France that year, and from what I can recall, I think almost all of the juniors were able to raise the funds, as well as my compatriots, but it wasn't to be for me.  I held onto the dream instead, that one day I would go to Paris.
     This last year, I decided that our children were long overdue to start learning a language, and selfishly since we home school, I chose french.  I thought it would be good for me to be refreshed, and I could help them.  They enjoy it, but I get a bigger kick out of hearing them speak to each other when they're practicing.
     With yesterday's horrific terrorist attacks and the vitriol on the internet today blaming refugees, it's like the dream is dying.  129 dead, so far, in Paris and 41 dead with 200 wounded in suicide bombings in Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday night from ISIS attacks.  We aren't quick to talk about Beirut though, both because the mainstream media didn't feed it to us and honestly, most Americans don't give a fuck.  I'm sorry if it's too harsh, but it's reality.  Let them, the others who live in that part of the world, blow each other up all they want, but spill blood at an American rock band's show and death to all those brownish skinned fuckers.
     That's what the terrorists want.  They want to scare us into staying home, giving up the legitimate fight.  They want to work on our base nature to alienate and persecute the other - all muslims are extremists and should be mistrusted, therefore we won't help refugees, won't look for common ground, won't care how many Palestinians die.  Syrian refugees fleeing death with their families with nothing more than the clothes on their back, housed temporarily in tents or makeshift what-evers, didn't drive black cars in front of multiple cafes with Kalashnikov rifles in clearly orchestrated attacks.  
     The terrorists don't want us to work on the root causes that keep them in business - poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity.  That's what causes religious extremism to take root and flourish.  If you have a good job, access to food and clean water, you or your children can read and write and participate in your community without impunity, when the bad guys come around to spew their propaganda, who's going to drop everything and take up with them.  On that beautiful bell curve of life that illustrates so much, there will always still be a couple at the far end of the spectrum who can be swayed, but the vast majority will ignore them.      
     I will continue to educate and care for all those who will listen to me.  But as I think of Paris today, for now, I feel like Morpheus's (aka King Nebuchadnezzar) words ring in my ear, "I have dreamed a dream but now that dream is gone from me."