Precinct 12

Looking around the room, she settles into the observer spot.  There are noses like hers. Noses that are wider.  Noses that are steeper. Babies, black and brown, white and gold.  There are older couples looking out for each other, and younger ones bickering about what to do next. Do they have time to get a Starbucks, or will that make them all the later for work?  A father takes a picture of his young yarmulke’d son, standing in front of the ballot box, thumbs up: “I voted”.

Turning out they are, these people, our people, the people who live next to us, but that we never see, but for if passing each other in the line to vote. So many people live in this square block of a precinct, and there are only a few that she recognizes. Some of them catch her eye. Some don’t. Though she tries with all of them.  At bay is how Abigail would describe how she has been facing this election.  But not now. Not today.

At one instance, a wife looks worriedly at her husband’s ballot. For some frustratingly unexplainable reason, his ballot has been spit-back-out.  Her head turns from the face of the official standing over the machine to her husband’s: won’t he count?  Turns out there’s a side door – manual as it is. Technology failed; human-conceived back up plan saved. Moment passes.

Abigail wakes the morning after. For a split second, as if in mourning, she forgets the night before, the-what- happened before she fretfully put herself to bed, hoping for a moment’s rest.  And then it rushes in.  Moms at the PTO snack table, outside the polling place at the school where her son could not thrive.  They said, “She’s going to win!  It will be momentous. Our first woman president,” misinterpreting Abigail’s tears as candidate anxiety.

In fact, she had held herself together in the sea of unknown neighbors, awakened to the anonymity that binds them.  She took in all those people, the humanity of Babel, added to it the-not-being-behind-the-PTO-table, supporting the teachers she had believed in so much, and it broke her resolve. Reliving those moments when there was no understanding for the difference of her boy, it all came crashing to tears. What if that privately-suffered, non-working-together-compassion would now sit publically in the leader’s national chair?

Standing in the election party kitchen later that night, Abigail paces.  Stomach knotted. How could this be – as blue and red shift ratios?   Even later, she and her husband fall asleep holding hands, as if together in an abyss, knowing nothing other than to connect. Imperfect solution, but reassuring.

The thing that stings the most the morning after is that Abigail has always thought herself “tuned in,” open, available to diversity.  Like she knew her country.  And clearly, she has no idea, living in the bubble of her life. Precinct 12 with all the noses and shades of skin and the PTO breakfast goodies sold, she has no concept of the nation she resides in.  Stranger feelings, greater distances, deeper fear about the meaning and make up of this country, she has not known before.  Was this what it was like in the real- life pages of history books when things were so bad, and we said, “never again”?

©Gabriella Strecker

Photo Courtesy of https://c.o0bg.com/rf/image_960w/Boston/2011-2020/2016/11/08/BostonGlobe.com/Metro/Images/350ac8f66f0d45f5993211787eb7f056-350ac8f66f0d45f5993211787eb7f056-0.jpg

Dementia

She walked round and round expatriating her anxious whisperings…

Nit. Knit. Knot. Not.  I have seen that leaf before. I think it fell right before my door. So why is it here? My house should be near.  When I hear the sound but can’t match its hue, those around me go boo hoo.  But what do I care, I don’t even know the color of my own hair.

A fireman arrived. He seemed ready to fetch me my prize. What game was it that we played?  Was it only earlier today? He asks, “Are you lost?”  I say, “No, no. I had noodles and sauce. Right here. Close. Near. With my daughter who is not always a dear.”

He put his hands in the corners of my pits, as if to pick me up in a blitz.  I say, “Sir, I do you no harm.  Take your hands away. You are causing alarm.”  “Ma’m,” he says to me slowly, as if I was deaf, as he pulls up the hip of my heft, “I am worried about your knee.  You seem to have struck it against this tree.  I want to be sure you are safe and secure. Please take a moment to rest. And be assured – I came here to help in response to your yelp.  It is my job to transport you to the people who support you.”

Who are these people all around me in town? Don’t they know I wore a gown – wedding and graduation, and once at a party. I don’t need their assistance; I am quite hearty.  I live alone. My daughter is grown, and the “alte kakers” I cared for have all been sown – back to the earth, or in the case of my mother, into the waves, so her ashes could flutter. 

It is easier.  Less sound, less moving around, less reason to wonder how I can be found.   Back in my old house before I was abducted, I often played hostess to people my daughter called “the grossest.”  Peter and Allan and a guy called Scallion – vets with pets.  We all walked the marshes, rooting and looting. We drove out the louses with which war had doused-us.  “Just be around. See what you see. Don’t worry about me.  I will watch over all, you three.” 

 It rushes back –  my competence and brilliance.  I almost forgot until I look up at this officer, and see his last name is Rott:  “Excuse me. To you, I am Doctor Salvatore.  That is a name you say with a roar.  I may be lost. I may be bruised.  But that, I can tell you, is not any news.  I earned this doctorate.  Even if you think I am oh so belligerent, I can tell you that I am quite alliterate.  I live in the city, brimming with pity, for all those not privy.  It has been my ever rising comfort to stand with them, forming a tree trunk and not just a stem.

All this fuss for just a little muss.  Some skin and some scrapes.  This is such an intrusion on my personal contusion.   “Quit resistin’,” and, “Just leave me here.  Right where I fell.  My daughter will come when I yell. She knows where I live. She knows how I give.  She is the one who builds me my bridge.”

When I get home, I must remember to take the laundry out. First comes a sock, then a tee. Another one will surely get by me.  Not a matched pair. How did that get in there? No bother. The weather is nice. Won’t even think twice. At night, I leave food just to be nice. My daughter says it is un-clean. But to me those mice are my queen.  Regal and royal, sweet and loyal.  They fill my heart with a warmth, not a boil.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

Image courtesy of http://ukcareguide.co.uk/media/Dementia.jpg

Lamedvavnik = 36 = 2×18 = Two Lives

They are both on the elevator when I get on.  He is leaning against the back windowed wall, eyes gently gazing down, off to the side, askance, as he does.  She is standing kitty-corner to him, her right cheek up against the invisible, personal boundary, as if to press on it without smudging.  She is twelve years old relative to his early sixties.  Though not really because, of course, she is old enough to be a knowledge worker, same as all of us; pushing ideas instead of boxes, around a warehouse of thought.

“Say what you want,” I comment to my imaginary audience, “but that is a man of integrity.” He talks to her. She mentions that she was part of the team that was part of a team that happened to help prepare the last meeting he attended; she was not invited being as junior as she is.  She, without saying, says that her role was influential. She worked hard.  You almost see the late-night lights bouncing off the box of Chinese takeout she ate at her desk.  He thanks her for the effort.  She is six, maybe seven layers, below him in the hierarchy, – like a cousin of a cousin of a cousin from a step child of a cousin.  No matter.  He engages – interested.

Contrasted, the business executive I work for, two levels ahead of me (so one would assume closer than her six degrees away from elevator man), has yet to even extend his hand.  Might not recognize him if I fell over him in the hallway – headshots being fuzzy and all, not always revealing the human beneath the staged head turn: “Just this way a bit. That’s it. Perfect.”

And then I remember last week – it was a big week for sermons – it being the Jewish holidays and all. The Rabbi raised her hands in the air and said, “Double chai!  Here’s to the 36 Righteous.” And I said, “Huh? Maybe I am one of them since I still, at the ripeness of 47, am unclear about where I might fit in.” Which, by the way, and of course, immediately disqualifies me, because the righteous never say that they are so.  From Wikipedia, the almighty source of all things not currently known to you, I learn:

Lamedvavnik (Yiddishלאַמעדוואַווניק‎), is the term for one of the 36 humble, righteous ones…At any given time [it is believed] there are at least 36 holy persons in the world….who are hidden; nobody knows who they are…For the sake of these 36 hidden saints, G*d preserves the world even if the rest of humanity has degenerated to the level of total barbarism…Since nobody knows who the Lamedvavniks are, not even themselves, [all] should act as if they might be one…leading a holy and humble life, [hoping for peace] for the sake of fellow human beings. The term lamedvavnik is derived from the Hebrew letters Lamed (L) and Vav (V), whose numerical value adds up to 36…twice 18…the number 18 stand[ing] for “life,” in Hebrew.  ~Adapted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzadikim_Nistarim

So it is – two lives (at least) – mingling in every interaction; and one (or both) can be amplified or snuffed when it’s over.  I look to this elevator executive, visible and public, criticized and ridiculed, for this decision or that lack of one; for the softness with which he speaks; and the kindness with which he rose-colored-glasses all he sees.  I used to be glass-half-empty myself, but given the world feels darkening in its spirit, I choose him. I choose the two lives he lifts up: engaging, embracing, elevating.  This man.  He is my corporate 36. I’d rather that kindness then the barge of berating brains that makes up leadership when power, not people, matter most to a person.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

Image courtesy of http://dianehuff.com/gallery/paintings/floral_16_oneamongmany.jpg

Incomplete Sentences

It has been a week of incomplete sentences. Thoughts interrupted by chaos consuming the world: shootings and refugees and presidential candidates who have a thing about women, never mind my 8th grader’s science being inaccessible and tear inducing (for both of us). Then there is the young person I overheard. He says if you are from Mexico your career is limited to cleaning bathrooms. Or the security guard who didn’t flinch when he asked the African-American Dad, “Why are you here,” as his baby spits up on his Armani suit.

“I got all the way home and realized I left my sandwich on the salad bar.  I cried. I actually cried,” a new mom behind me in line at the grocery store, says.  She is with her 11-week old son.  So tired, holding tightly to the string that binds her: baby.   She tries to eat her now-retrieved sandwich. Baby fusses. She interrupts herself, holding his soft head against her warm shoulder, a pillow sewn years ago for this little body.  I say, “He is lucky to have you.”  She says nodding her head towards my boy, “He is lucky to have you.”

But is he? He is angry, tearful, emotional, and sad this week.  He doesn’t want to be Jewish he tells me.  I say – “You can’t un-choose it.  It’s like saying you don’t want to be white or human.  It just is; it’s in the bloodline.  You can choose to not practice the religion or observe the culture, but you can’t stop being Jewish.”  He knows people tried to hide their Jew-ness just for a shred of a hope to survive. Yet, he seems to be renouncing.  As if this privilege to name, to be able to tell this part of the story, is not a viable choice.  “Not only that,” I silently scream at CNN’s deaf, one-directional ear, “There are women’s locker rooms too. And I am pretty sure the topic of kissing people against their will has not come up.”

The Rabbi offers a Yom Kippur sermon in the form of a letter to his daughter, a less-than-3-month-old herself right now.  He tells the story of tending an “orchard of G*d,” teaching through action, as he and his son plant the next generation: green stalks and shady things needing water.  And what can we promise these babes as we face down the specter of today, of harshness slung against each other while we still try to hold onto that string of hope that binds us so that, “when they go low, we go high”?

I see a woman in an electric wheel chair, next to her a man, fully whitened head of hair. He is bent over, hunched at the mid back, like he sat at a desk for many hours staring closely at a problem set he was working by hand. He holds hers – hand that is, and I am struck. He appears so much more fragile than she, her feet enshrined in shiny shoes, twinkling as if by candle light. Yet she is the one we might call “disabled.”  To whom belongs this decision?

Work weaves and wraps around this week too.  Moments when my action oriented mind hits up against corporate lethargy – deadening me down to a thick, rancorous weight.  Where is the genius lurking? Where is the human humility hiding? During this week I (dare I say we?) need a healing moment to face down the sad, slimy competitive promotion turned degrading combustion.  Soothing is what we seek as we see that issues  become eye sores and thoughtlessness has an acidic aftertaste.

Over and over I say to my husband. I do believe it.  I do. The zombie apocalypse is coming. How else to explain the shameless heated fostering of public acrimony?  Is there no place to sit down and stop? Feel the heartbeat? See the smoky breath coming from open mouths?  This mess cannot be the way, so filled with no method-to-the-madness maniacal narcissistic whispering.  Can it?  I mean, who will we ever become?

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

Image courtesy of http://anaigbacasmir.weebly.com/blog/archives/06-2014

 

Yom Kippur: Open Up Our Hearts

 

October 4, 2014

Holy one who blessed our ancestors, open our hearts to forgiveness                                                           that we may honestly see the world around us and our place in it.

I can’t remember a Yom Kippur when I didn’t cry. Always tears. For I have sinned. The scenes and screens of the last year flicker through my mind as the melodies fill the sanctuary. The times I yelled at my son. The times I let my eyes roll back in my head.  My amygdala hijacking all possibility for reconciliation, for favor between us – whoever us is. I see the whites of my eyes. Medusa flying snake hair of fury. And I cry.

Then I think of children without parents, and parents who lost kids to drugs or death or deeply rooted patterns they can’t even discern. And nations. Nations who lost generations. And I cry. For me. For them. And I own the guilt  – personally. I own the action. I have acted. I have hurt. Them. And I have hurt. Me.

Walked out of services last night, and my friend said, “When they were doing the mourner’s kaddish I thought to myself, ‘Is Gabriella’s mother ever going to die?’” Funny, for the last three years I have written her eulogy on this day or sometime between the Rosh and Yom Kippur. But now, this year, no.

I know she still sits in her bed. I know there are nurses and aides and all sorts of other helpers who take care of her, and yet I have pocketed the pressure I have felt for so long. The pressure to show up every week, dragging my son, dragging myself. Really just wanting to sit and rest or read or think, but feeling the Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon or holiday draw. It is my duty. If not mine than whose? It is my due.

But is it? Is it my due to have the job of this mother? To have had the job of this life – the more downs than ups? The more hard than easy? There was always more risk than reward, more fear than steadiness. No. I say. No. And I forgive myself. I forgive myself for needing to have been loved when I wasn’t. For not attaching “right” as a small child to a parent that could not attach to a shoe if it were a buckle. I forgive myself for blaming myself for what wasn’t, for the sins and sicknesses, and the self-absorbed demanding of attention.  I could never  have succeeded. It was not to me. It was not due to me. It is not my due today. Nor is it any of those children’s who have believed it was theirs. It was the world around us. Not our place in it.

And so I turn my face to the sun of forgiveness. And I cry. I cry because I know I will be here again every year of my life. The frailty and imperfection of humanness leading me back; returning, always again to the forgiveness place. The place of here – the heart and belly – of TODAY.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

Image courtesy of http://www.joshuanhook.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/word-art-heart-painting-forgive-original.jpeg

 

 

Stay Still and Buddha that Boy

He was without a helmet, wore a knit cap. I think it was a cabernet-y color or maybe black cherry cough syrup.  Dark leather gloves and a grey jacket, he rode a bike. I drove a white SUV and was turning right on my city street. I looked in the rear view. I looked over my shoulder. In the split second I wasn’t looking he appeared at the corner where I was about to clip him.

We both stopped just in time.  I held my breath – exhaling nervousness and a halting smile.  I put my two hands to the center of my chest in supplication, and mouthed, “Sorry,” opening my arms to a Please –You-Go-First-gesture.  He shook a short, clipped “No” and point-jabbed me towards the direction I was turning. I silently mouthed, “No, please, you,” and showed him the way with my open-palmed hand.

He rolled his eyes and shook his head with such disgust.  My impact on him was both real and unintended, and his on me, a set of shaky adrenaline sparks.  Maybe the grown-up thing to do would have been to roll down my window and say, “I am sorry I upset you, please go right ahead. You have the right of way.”  But I didn’t do that.  I was surprised, a little scared, I think,  his rancor written so all over his face.

He did not easily release me from the angry gaze he held. I felt assaulted by the assumptions I assumed he made: “She is so full of herself, sees no one else around her   – suburban mom in a truck too big for the city.”  He stood over the cross bar of his bike, took out his phone and started – I don’t know what – scrolling, texting, pretending to call the police, looking at pictures.  He stayed on that corner, standing his ground.

Cars behind me honked. I put mine in PARK, hazards on. Somehow I decided that waiting him out was the way to go.  Plus, from where I was sitting, his front tire was at the nose of mine. The physics seemed likely to end up hurting him which seemed untoward given we had just escaped that reality. Together.

The frames of all those horrible crashes in my head – a public awareness campaign – white bikes with plastic flowers peppering our city in the spots where cyclists had been killed by inadvertent or inattentive drivers – be they of bikes or cars.  An accident, like love, is a dance of multitudes – weather, angles, braking and breaking, timing – regret and hope cycling.  An accident, like love, is shaped by the people onsite, at that moment when the coming together happens, and the worlds smudge into each other.  I stood my ground in the face of his fury; maybe to see if I could.  Maybe to prove him wrong –  I am caring. I do see you.  I am trying to help.  “Stay still. Go Buddha on that biker boy,” I told myself.

Ten minutes in, he gave up, slowly and softly shaking his head now. He seemed tired for his young years all of a sudden. His face looked fallen – more so than when we first raised our eyebrows in shockandfearrelief – just a split second after our missed merge.  Resigned to lose this one, or maybe about to land on the wrong side of late-for-work,  he rolled forward, both hands in the air, no hands on the bike, as if to say, “You did not change me.”  It felt like a juvenile reject-the-resolution gesture.   Like deer in the headlights – fascinated and frightened – a wide-eyed savior-of-self.

© Gabriella Strecker, 2016

photo courtesy of Nancy Aronie’s bathroom 🙂

That is Just How It Is…

I stood in line, able to get you into the fast pass lane even though you didn’t have the right clearance, because the people who worked at Heathrow security were my family or my friends, the sons of other families like mine. I knew I knew them, so I knew I could get you through, but I didn’t tell you.  I wanted to impress you as if I was a diplomat or a Vegas high roller or a mobster in an Armani suit with connections.  I wanted you to be able to tell that I was your prince made from a pumpkin.  I wanted to be sure you considered us possible. So I didn’t tell you that I knew they would know me, my Pakistani brothers.

Also, I neglected to mention that I am a fundamentalist Muslim even though I kissed you on the first date which I should have indicated wasn’t a date because I am a Muslim, and you are a Jew.  When you called me from Boston I forgot to say, “That was fun, and please don’t call me again, because we are not an option. I will be married, as all my family will, through arrangement. Also, I have to go first, because I am the oldest boy. Likely she will be sent from Pakistan directly through the fast lane at Heathrow.”

When you asked me if I wanted a personal or professional relationship with you, and you told me I couldn’t have both, I didn’t tell you professional. I was proud of you for making me make the choice, but what I didn’t tell you is that I was going to try a little experiment, an experiment we’ll call “Living My Own Life.”  I pretended, years ago now, 90 days in the States, 90 days in the UK, avoiding the specter of immigration and of telling my family that I loved a single mother Jew and her son too.  I never told you I wouldn’t go through with it. And when they called you from Customs to verify my identity and your intentions to marry me, and you were waiting for me at your mother’s birthday party with the Hallal-just-for-me takeout Chinese food, I didn’t tell you the fear I experienced.  I told you I was used to it – being brown – it happens every time. I didn’t tell you that I was surprised, and then angry, that you didn’t know brown was a race.  You just saw me, you said.  I should not have had to tell you. Brown is its own color.

I left you standing in the jewelry store.  I didn’t tell you I was going to get cash out of the family’s account to buy you a ring. I didn’t tell you that the account was practically empty because we lived in government funded housing, like slums, but it’s England, so it’s nicer than the States.   I didn’t tell you where I was going when I went to the ATM, so you left the jewelry store, humiliated as if you had been left at the altar, though a Mosque doesn’t have an altar.  By the way, it dawns on me, I might have forgotten to tell you that I am first generation Pakistani born in England.  My parents are very traditional. I would lose my family if they knew about you, and my family is first.  I might have left that out when I asked if I could see you again. To be clear when you said yes, I didn’t tell you then that I would stay.

When you learned to pray with me, murmuring Hebrew yet mirroring my movements, I didn’t tell you that would never be enough of a conversion. Loving G*d, being kind, making a family, having a passion, would not be enough to keep me with you.  And when it finally ended, after so many tears and transatlantic calls, layovers in London to have just one more whiff, I didn’t tell you then…that it was over.  My sister did. I heard her: “Darling, this man is a Muslim. His children will be Muslim. That is just how it is.”

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

photo courtesy of www.visitlondon.com