Pain and Suffering

I was reading another blog writer whose posts I follow, and I found this little gem of a thought that, for me, requires some additional thought and introspection. The words are credited to the religion of Buddhism:

“Pain exists but suffering is optional.”

According to the dictionary, pain is defined as the actual discomfort of something, be it mental or physical, and suffering is the mental perception we use to define the depth of our pain.

This idea that suffering is optional really hit me hard. I have a friend who lost her dad about 7 or 8 months ago and is still feeling the loss very strongly, apparently unable or unwilling to begin a healing process. Knowing from experience that we all grieve at our own pace, I’ve simply listened as, time after time, she mutters about how very much she misses him and how empty her life feels without him. And I wondered if this idea about pain and suffering might apply to her, that, while the pain is indeed beginning to heal, she chooses to continue to suffer its consequences for whatever reason she needs to do so.

I recently overdid it physically to the point that I was hurting on a scale of 7 to 8 out of 10 constantly in my neck, shoulders and arms. My neck is a serious spot, as my chiropractor always had to ‘reset’ it during my adjustments. My right shoulder, at least, still has an occasional twinge from having dislocated it over a year ago. When I got home, all I could do was drop my purse inside the door, kick off my shoes, turn the air conditioner down to 69 because I was drenched with sweat from the activity and plop into the recliner. It hurt badly enough that I could have cried, but not quite badly enough that I couldn’t keep myself from crying. And, as happens whenever I hurt that much, my mind says, “I want my mommy.” In real life, that would have done me no good, because my mom was not the nurturing type in many ways, but I did want the kind of mommy like June Cleaver who would soothe and comfort me even if she couldn’t make the pain go away. The pain did exist, as did the suffering. It required conscious choice and focus not to just continue to feel sorry for myself as I continued to heal, but to force myself to work through some of the pain by moving and using my arms and back. It was slow going, but I didn’t stay in “suffering” longer than I had to.

Nonetheless, I think all of us at one time or another (and some of us multiple times!) have suffered longer than we truly needed to. For me, I prolonged it simply because I wanted the attention and nurturing from anyone who saw me suffering. Deeper, than that, I probably just wanted for someone to show me that they cared for me, not just say the words.

The other side of that coin is that, when I’m suffering the most, I tend to completely withdraw from anyone who might give me comfort. I’ve always had a difficult time asking for help with anything, and I always feel that if I ask for help, I am encroaching on someone else’s time and energy. Behind all of that is the fear that, if I share my pain with another and they are unable or unwilling to support me through it, that means that my pain is insignificant enough not to be dealt with.

I don’t know if I’m going to change my ways (being an old dog and all), but I am going to keep the idea in my head that suffering is optional and use that idea to help me determine if I want to continue to suffer or try to find ways out of the pain. And I hope sharing that philosophy here might help someone else at last recognize his/her own patterns of suffering.

If I’m Not of Service, then…

I was reading through a blog post of another blog I readily follow, and I had an epiphany of sorts that has let me to understand that I need to do more introspective work.

The writer was talking about being ‘friends’ with those of whom she provides some kind of service. The service could be as insignificant as going to the mall with them whenever they wanted, or as significant as always being available, at the drop of a hat, to babysit or run an errand they can’t get out to do. The writer went on to say what it’s like to start making friends who like her for her, and not what she can give/do for them.

I nodded my head, having gone down that same path over the past handful of years. I have consciously erased some people I would have called “friends” at the time they were in my life, understanding that I was, in a way, being taken advantage of. Being the “giver” that I am, I’m often first in line to offer help to someone who could use it. Add “empath” to the mix, and I’m the first in line offering help to someone even when there has been no conscious show that they need help.

I could write many paragraphs about those people and the stories behind my decision. One had gotten so bad that it became part of the list of reasons to move from Lancaster to where I am now, because that was the only way I knew I could escape it. And yes, I realize I also allowed it get as bad as it was.

At times, I look at the few very close friends I have an ask myself, “Why do these people want to be my friend?” I had realized that part of me had always rushed in to help and be of service to people was because, in a weird way, I was trying to buy added value into having a friendship with me.

For so many years, I had to fight against my parents to try and get them to like me for who I am, not for my accomplishments. I know I never fully succeeded, but I also know I did break some of the boards of the fence. Why then, is it so difficult for me to accept that people will like me for me, not what I do for them?

I turned my tables on myself while I’ve been writing and began asking myself, “Well, why do I like the friends I like?” I was surprised that I couldn’t come up with specific reasons. My friends are non-judgmental (at least outwardly), always friendly, always willing to listen, often inspiring and just comfortable to be around without pretense. I know I have quirks and times I’m being difficult, but they just accept that as part of who I am. I also realize that I can choose to be my authentic self with them without recourse. I have never chosen to be friends with someone other than recognizing that they bring something priceless to the friendship – themselves.

I bring many of those same things to those friendships. I try to be non-judgmental and am learning to preface my judgement with the words, “If I were you – and I’m not – I would….” as a way of indicating that I’m merely giving a different option to something that they may not be seeing on their own. I actually recently asked my bestie about something I was struggling with, and prefaced my question, “If you were me – which you’re not – how would you handle such and such?” and she really gave me great insight and advice. I took her advice and used it, and I’m still thanking her for the benefits of my choice to handle the situation in the way that she suggested! To my friends, I bring laughter, silliness, sarcasm, honesty, a shoulder to lean on, and someone who will always offer an opinion. Apparently, those things are enough!

I have whittled down the need to do/give with these people, and while I like making my friends feel special and let them know I’m thinking about them, I can do that in small ways because it makes me feel good to do so. I honestly know that the small circle of true friends I have haven’t asked me to be of service to them in any way. I will just need to stop and think before doing anything – even small – is 100% for my own joy and 0% to give them reason to keep me as a friend.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks????

The Five Senses

Except through a birth defect of some kind, we humans are all born with the five basic senses – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. I’ve recently been thinking about which one would be most difficult to lose. I’m a little bit afraid of the dark, so losing my sight and being constantly in ‘the dark’ would be scary for me. Because music has always been an important part of my life and has, often, the ability to link directly into my emotions, I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to never hear music again, much less other sounds of daily life. Honestly, I give great kudos to those who are paralyzed and unable to feel touch, since touch, more than anything else, connects us to another person. I have always thought that, if I had to choose to give up one sense, it would either be smelling or tasting.

But now, since those two senses are so affected by the COVID-19 virus and I’ve heard some people who have experienced that lose talk about the affect, I am taking a second look at these senses as being more important than I previously thought them to be.

We are attracted to any given food item by three basic things – its appearance, its taste and its texture. For example, there are foods you could put on my plate that might have a really good taste and a nice texture, but if it is visually unappealing, I’m pretty apt not to try it to find out. I remember reading a study many years ago now where the study group was divided in two, and half of the group was blindfolded. A plate of food was served to all of them that included mashed potatoes, cooked rice and cheese hunks. But….the foods were all dyed or decorated to make them visually unappealing. The potatoes were dyed green, the rice was dyed red, and the cheese, before it was cut into hunks, was ‘decorated’ with food coloring to make it look like there were mold spots. Obviously, the group who were blindfolded had no issue eating any of the foods, but those who would see the food in front of them either refused to take a taste, or did so with the preconceived notion that, because of how it looked, it wasn’t going to taste good, and those who did try it were 98% certain that it didn’t taste “right” in some way. That certainly gives credence to how powerful the appearance of our food is to our desire to eat it.

I know this to be true by this example: I love rice. I can eat cooked rice by itself with butter and salt, flavored rice dishes, rice mixed in with hamburger, etc. I can, with some difficulty, eat rice in a soup. But if you put a bowl of rice pudding in front of me, there is no way I’m going to even try it. I hope I don’t ruin anyone’s enjoyment of rice pudding by saying this, but rice pudding looks to me like maggots in slime, and I just can’t get away from the visual enough to put it into my mouth!

Taste is, of course, highly subjective to each individual. Texture can also be subjective to each individual, though not as decisive as taste.

I finally acknowledged in this past year that I tend to eat to satisfy my taste buds. I don’t have to feel hungry in any way, but suddenly, there is a desire for a specific taste that comes into my mind and is very difficult to get rid of without indulging. Texture can also play a part in that desire. In fact, I think texture would still play a part in what I choose to eat even if I couldn’t taste it. Having struggled with my weight all of my life, I picture myself eating all of the healthy things that I don’t like by taste because taste wouldn’t matter. Trust me, I’ve played with the idea of being hypnotized to suddenly crave things like salad and raw vegetables and suddenly dislike the taste of salt. But being hypnotized wouldn’t take away my taste buds. Nonetheless, I think that’s the sense I’ve most be willing to lose.

But, what is the good of letting a small piece of dark chocolate melt on your tongue if you can’t taste it? I don’t eat a lot of chocolate (except for my recent addiction to Whoppers) and usually can enjoy just one taste; I’ve even turned down the offer of a piece of chocolate because I didn’t really want it. Imagine chewing on a perfectly prepared bite of steak and having it taste like nothing? What would become the real point of eating if you can’t taste anything?

Okay, maybe losing my sense of smell would be better. Other than inhaling the scent of lilacs or hyacinths, I can’t say I’d greatly miss being able to smell flowers. Although, I really do like the smell of freshly mown grass. But I’d also lose being able to smell more obnoxious and unpleasant smells. It would make me the perfect person to change a messy diaper, after all! I’m okay with never smelling a dead skunk again. I can sometimes smell a rain storm in the air before it starts, and that’s a pleasant smell to me as well. But, over all, I think the sense of smell offers the most equal list of good and bad smells, which makes it the easiest to lose.

I can’t imagine losing the other three remaining senses. When babies are born deaf and/or blind, they never realize that they’ve lost something because they’ve never really had it. But to have been given those senses and then having one taken away, how does one ever get past that loss? I know that it happens regularly – I have a friend who lost her hearing – first in one ear and then the other – and has never heard most of her grandchildren speak. I admit that I’m quite fond of quiet, but choosing quietness versus having noise taken away from me are different things. Much like the pandemic, I don’t go out to more places than I did during it (except for the occasional thrift store and lunch out with my bestie), but there is a big difference between choosing not to go out and being told I can’t go out.

I think of Christopher Reeves whenever I think about losing the sense of touch. Touch is the best way we can feel connected to one another – from the lightest touch of laying a sympathetic hand on someone to the deepest intimate touch that comes with love-making. Like music, touch can say the things we are unable to say with words. My brother gives a really great hug. It is all encompassing and once we’ve got our arms around each other, both of us just stand still and breathe. I can’t imagine how it would feel for my brother to give me a hug and not be able to feel it.

And, I think most of all, I would like to keep my sight. I am a bit clumsy at times – I can miss a stair step when it’s right there in my vision (and have). Much of my time is spent reading (audiobooks are not the same, I’ve tried them) and I would be lost without being able to escape into a good story!

I’ve obviously given this a lot of thought – maybe too much thought? – and probably because extended family-by-heart, double vaccinated, recently caught COVID and it was spread around the household. One person still can taste nothing but spiciness after 3 weeks, still cannot smell, and that brought on this whole barrage of thoughts about losing our senses.

If you choose, I’d love for you to share which sense you would most hate to lose and why….

Hacks from my Happy Place – XXI

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post about all things kitchen and cooking. I cannot believe that I’ve written 20 posts already under this series. I honestly haven’t developed any new recipes to share, though I’ve now got the idea for a couple. Instead, this post will focus on “hacks” to make you look like a decent cook.

On my recent trip to see my brother, we talked about how, by the time he gets home from work, he just wants quick and easy meals with as little clean-up as possible. And I’m going to admit it, for the first time, that when I’m cooking for just me, I use all kinds of cheats and hacks!

Example #1: I don’t like the runny sauce that comes with the boxed macaroni and cheese products. I also don’t want to go through the hassle of making homemade mac and cheese when it’s just for me. So….. I buy the boxed stuff, make it on the stove as directed, and then pour it into a casserole pan of some sort and pop it in the oven at 350 degrees. Open the oven after about 10 minutes and give it a good stir, and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes. Baking it solidifies the cheese sauce so it molds to the shape of the pasta and is no longer runny, and it tastes pretty decent! Plus, there are a variety of add-ins like bacon bits, chicken pieces, even canned tuna, that makes it a meal just by itself!

Example #2: I love chicken parmesan and let’s be honest, unless you are dining in an authentic Italian restaurant or 5-star establishment, the chicken is most likely to be a molded and breaded patty. For upwards of $15, or more, you can get this type of chicken parmesan served to you with a side of pasta. But….. you can make 4 times that many servings with just a little bit of easy prep and easy ingredients. Buy a box of the frozen chicken patties from the freezer section of your store. You will also need some mozzarella cheese – shredded or sliced – and either a jar of inexpensive spaghetti sauce or a can of tomato sauce and some Italian seasoning or oregano (one or both is probably in your pantry). Start boiling the water for whatever pasta you want on the side (or get a good brioche bun and make a sandwich instead). Bake the chicken as directed on the box, but about 3-4 minutes short of the baking time. As it is close to being done, use the microwave to heat up your sauce, for under a minute, just to get it warm. Remove baking sheet from oven and use a spoon to spread the sauce on the patties. Top with the mozzarella cheese. Return to oven and bake until cheese is melty. Congrats, you’ve just mastered some really decent chicken parmesan and saved lots of money doing it!

Example #3: When the weather is cold, a hot roast beef or hot turkey sandwich is hearty and filling comfort food. You can serve it on bread or over a mound of mashed potatoes (instant are okay, you won’t taste them anyhow!). Go to your local deli and ask someone to cut you a slab of turkey or roast beef, about 3/4 of an inch thick. Go to the center aisles and pick up a jar of roast beef or turkey filling. Then, it’s just a matter of heating the gravy on the stove while you warm the meat in the microwave. For me, I don’t want to have to deal with cutting my food once I sit down to eat, so I just cut the meat in bite-sized chunks, skip the microwave, and throw it into the gravy until it’s hot, and voila, just as good as you’d get in the average diner!

Example #4: Beef stew is a hardy meal and although I could use the lunch meat and gravy like I do for a hot meat sandwich, I simply buy the (I think it’s Hormel) beef tips in gravy that’s found in the section near the pre-packaged lunch meat section. A can of diced potatoes and a small can of peas and carrots are the only other ingredients. I heat the beef tips in the microwave as directed and heat the potatoes and veggies together in a sauce pan. When everything is ready, pour the beef and gravy into a serving bowl, drain the potatoes and veggies, add in and stir until everything is combined. It really is that easy!

When you’re cooking for one, these are some easy ways to make yourself something that you won’t find pre-packaged at your store, and while again, it’s not restaurant dining, it at least tastes a bit like ‘homemade’. And mostly, it’s not filled with a bunch of extra preservatives!

I hope some of you will give some of these easy hacks a try, and then pat yourself on the back for how good they taste! Maybe they’ll inspire you to try other combinations! If so, please share them with us!

The Neighbors Next Door

Next door to my apartment building is a full house (not divided into apartments as many are in this town). In this house lives an elderly couple – and by elderly, I mean they have at least touched the 80 mark. In my over 5 years living here, I have never met them or spoken to them. My kitchen window, however, faces directly into their back yard and the back of their house, so I see things from time to time.

The only time I see Mrs. Elderly is when she’s walking up the back walk to their back door, which is the only door they use. And the only times I see her walking to her door, she is coming back from work at Walmart (the blue vest gives it away). Their back yard is quite long, and Mr. Elderly always backs his vehicle up until it is within a dozen steps to get to the back door. At first, I thought that he was just being courteous to Mrs. Elderly, as she walks with a cane, but I quickly learned that he keeps several tool boxes in the back of his SUV, and he wants quick access to them. You see, Mr. Elderly likes to putter.

You can see his work table set up.

Yes, Mr. Elderly is from that generation where, if something was broken, you fixed it. More recent generations now think that if something is broken, you throw it away and buy a new one. Mr. Elderly has a plastic fold-up work table, although I’ve don’t often seen him use it. But, more days than not, you will see Mr. Elderly outside tinkering with something.

Mr. and Mrs. Elderly have a pine tree in their back yard which is humungous! I kid you not! This tree is taller than their three-story house. It is home to birds and squirrels alike. Because of there being so many birds, Mr. and Mrs. Elderly have two wrought-iron multi-plant holders in the yard. Most of the hangers for plants are, instead, used to hold bird feeders of a various sort. In the mornings, there will be a lot of birds vying for, and sometimes fighting over, a feeding hole. Each plant holder gets one plant in a white pot (probably purchased at Walmart). The flowers are beautiful when they put them up, but they do nothing to care for them, and because of the multiple heat waves we’ve had this summer, they are both already dead.

Look closely and you can see the dead hanging planter center at the top.
Base of the pine tree. It’s obviously quite old!
Gives you an idea of how tall this tree is!

Mr. Elderly has a metal shed in the yard. I am assuming that is where he might store his gas-powered push mower and other such things. Yes, Mr. Elderly mows his own grass!

There is also a boat trailer parked in the back yard. There is no boat, but he often stores long lengths of wood or pipe on it. I’ve never seen him actually build anything with the wood, nor do I know how long it has been there. Quite possibly, he did a renovation in the house at some point and had extra lumber.

Like every building in this area, none have central air conditioning. Mr. and Mrs. Elderly have one installed in what I’m guessing is a dining room window. Upstairs, there is not a single unit installed. Unless there has been renovation of some kind to put a powder room on the first level, there is probably a bathroom only on the second floor. Bedrooms would also be on that floor. Because Mrs. Elderly uses a cane, I feel a bit bad at how many trips she might have to make up and down those steps every day.

I have never seen a car other than theirs parked in the back (there is no street parking on this section of Main Street because the streets are quite narrow). I have never seen anyone other than the couple go in and out of the door.

Meanwhile, for whatever reason or reasons Mr. Elderly parks his car practically up against his back door, there is a massive unused amount of space in the rest of his back yard, except for a small garden where they grow their own tomatoes. For people in apartments who don’t have outdoor space, I’m sure they’d agree with me about being envious of enjoying that space and the fact that it’s been left unused.

Wasted outdoor space.

I’ve never really had the time to watch people as they go about their normal lives. I’ve lived in homes in suburbs or in apartments, and even though I saw my neighbors, it was seeing them coming and going, not just ‘hanging out’ outside. Living in a rural area, on its Main Street no less, means I get to know about more of the goings on around me because we’re not spread out by much area. Mostly, I really enjoy watching the birds feeding at one of his many bird feeders, which he fills and keeps out 365 days a year. I doubt, without it being intentional on my part, I’ll ever meet this couple, but I can tell they are nice people – a little eccentric in my opinion – but that’s just a generational issue. I’m grateful for the time I get to watch out my kitchen window, which definitely perks up the chore of washing and rinsing dishes!

I wish Mr. and Mrs. Elderly many more happy years together in good health!

Class Reunions

Should I still be alive by then, 2024 will mark the year of my high school class’s 50th reunion. For a long time, I considered my high school years to be the best years of my life. It was my first chance at making friends outside of the kids in my neighborhood. I was involved in both band and choir, and most of my actual friends were involved in one or both. Band members got the lockers closest to the band room, as we often had practice in the mornings before school, especially for concert band when we didn’t have to practice marching. Choir was actually a period during the day, so, except for special things like the annual high school musical, we didn’t have to go early, or stay after, school.

Back when the first high school class reunion happened – 5 years in 1979 – we didn’t have the technology to find (almost) anyone using the Internet. I’d been married, last name changed, moved from home, so I suppose I was difficult to find. At least that’s what I told myself, because I never received word of it. So on and so on; I never knew about a class reunion until the 35th year. It was being held in a bar/restaurant, but there were no drinks or food being provided, simply a place to gather and socialize and buy your own food and drinks. And I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t even being held at and supporting a bar/restaurant in our own school district boundaries – in fact, not even in our own county.

During my years at high school, I had friends – band and/or choir members – who were either a year in front of or a year behind my grade. I thought how nice it would be to see some of them, more than many of my classmates, but I didn’t have that opportunity. Those people were formative during my high school years much more than most of my classmates.

As I was working on the process of scanning photos and keeping them digitally instead of in hard copy, I thought about doing that with high school yearbooks. There are plenty of pages in my yearbook that have no real significance to me – things like homecoming courts and clubs like A/V and chess, nor did I really know any of the people associated with them. I thought about how efficient it would be to just scan the pages that were important to me, that had some meaning to my years back then. But, upon reflection, I decided that, no matter how seldom I took them off the shelves and looked at them, seeing them on the shelves gave me a warm fuzzy, so stay there they will. Plus, my yearbook is filled with hand-written well wishes, and I feel like they are more strongly sentimental in the book than on a scanned photo.

Meanwhile, just for sh*ts and giggles, I decided to take my senior year yearbook from the shelf and look through it with a purpose. I wanted to look at each senior’s photo and ask myself if this was someone I’d love to have the chance to see again. I am in contact through social media (some more actively than others) with a small handful of my fellow classmates, and I’d be happy to see all of them again. Out of a class of over 250 seniors, and discounting those with whom I’ve stayed in contact, there are two seniors that I would hug like the dickens if I ever saw them again, and two others I would enjoy seeing where 50 years has taken them. I also discovered that there was one person I would avoid like the plague and two others I’d prefer to not have contact with if possible.

The “best years of my life” carried less than 20 people who have stayed in my life. And of that handful, only three of them have I seen in person in 48 years. How did these alleged “best years of my life” end up giving me so little that I still hold dear? The answer to that lies in the fact that my three years of high school gave me opportunities to learn. Not in the traditional sense, like books and classes and tests, but to have my first footsteps into the world outside of my neighborhood, family and church family. High school was the first place where I occasionally let my real self shine through (albeit in small doses). It was the first real lesson to me that I could overcome things, even if I did it my way and not the ‘authorized by parents’ way.

I read back over this and really wonder if I want to go to my 50th reunion. As the past ones have been at a bar/restaurant kind of place and people just ‘mingled’, mostly in the bar, I’m thinking that’s not worth the effort for me, nor something that sounds like a good time. And yet, if I found out that those two people who I would fiercely like to hug were there, I’d be upset with myself.

At least I’ve got some time to think about it – as I said, if I’m even still alive when it gets closer. Maybe I’ll be able to find a “Plus One” for an escort so I won’t feel like the same wallflower I felt back in high school. Who knows???

The Lady with All the Answers

My bestie and I went to see a show by this name at nearby DCP (Dutch Country Players) Theatre. We knew it was going to have some humor attached, since it was drawn from the life and letters of Ann Landers. In case you’re not old enough to know who this gem (with her identical twin sister) is, here is a little background. Ester Pauline (nicknamed Eppie) and Pauline Ester (nicknamed Popo) were born on July 4, 1918. Both sisters became advice columnists – Eppie as Ann Landers and Popo as Dear Abby.

The tickets were inexpensive as shows go, although DCP Theatre is an independent small venue where actors as well as stage hands, ushers, etc. are all volunteers. Masks were required inside and ticket sales were set at a less than 100% full seating status so both of us felt comfortable.

The show was a monologue, done in two acts. With a 15-minute intermission, it lasted about 2 hours and 20 minutes. As expected, everyone in the audience had multiple eye-roll moments as some of the letters written to Ann Landers couldn’t help but make you think that, in the game of survival of the smartest, these people never even got to the starting gate. Plus, the story acted out takes place in 1975, and we all know that society isn’t nearly as tied into the protocol of what should and should not be said.

Anyhow, the most interesting part of this afternoon out was discovering who Ann Landers was when she was just Eppie Lederer, wife to Jules Lederer and mother to daughter, Margo, as well as twin sister to Popo. I admit to having some fascination with discovering who celebrities and famous people really are when they take away the mask they wear in front of the audiences they ‘entertain’. Maybe my fascination has to do with discovering how many years I myself had been wearing a mask to be (or pretend to be) what people wanted to see me be, but seeing these well-known people have trials and errors in life, experience raw and genuine emotion, just makes me feel closer to them as a person – as a human being.

In 1975, Jules Lederer asked Eppie for a divorce. They had been married 36 years, and as far as we could tell from the story presented on stage, Jules entered a mid-life crisis and fell ‘in love’ with a much younger woman. As we listened to Diane Seader, who so eloquently played the role of Ann Landers/Eppie Lederer, I found myself on the brink of becoming teary-eyed. I could feel the heartache of not only the divorce, but also of having to admit to thousands and thousands of loyal readers that the woman who had been giving relationship advice for all of those years apparently knew nothing. Talk about the sense of ultimate failure!

Having seen this show will excitedly lead me to trying to discover more about the life of Eppie Lederer, and most likely make me look into her twin’s life as well. Who were these two identical twin sisters (born 17 minutes apart, Eppie being the older), born into the Jewish faith in the Bronx and having grown up there, and how did they both end up having, for all intents and purposes, the same career? Was having the same career a result of some genetical make-up or was it based more on sibling rivalry and the need for one-upmanship?

Anyhow, in the end, we learned that the Lady with All the Answers didn’t have all the answers after all. You know what? I think I actually like and admire her more because of that!

Abby, left and Ann, right

At the end of the line…Cemeteries

During my recent visit to my beloved brother, I made a stop at the cemetery where my parent’s ashes are buried on my way home. I had been doing a lot of thinking about my mom and my relationship with her, and realized that, for all of the problems we had in our relationship, there were some good things and some special positive memories that I was choosing to ignore while I continually seemed to focus and lament upon the many negative ones. While I realize I’m merely standing upon a piece of ground that holds no real attachment to her as a living person, it felt like a good place to be to share those thoughts with a thank you for them.

During the subsequent drive home (1-1/2 hours), I thought a lot about cemeteries and what happens to all of those grave sites when there is an end to the line of lineage. My grandparents raised 5 children, 3 of them gave them each 3 grandchildren. My grandfather died first, my grandmother about 10 years after. Because our family was the geographically closest to them during life and to their grave site upon death, my older brother, Mark, took it upon himself to ‘take care of‘ their site and the area around their marker. Four of my cousins had never been to the gravesite, 3 because they lived across the country and 1 because she passed on before my grandparents. Other than my two brothers, then, the other two cousins both resided in Maryland. I guess it was more or less expected that the task would fall within our family, and I am pretty certain that my brother took the task on because he felt obligated as the oldest grandchild living geographically close. It was never discussed or talked about, he simply announced that he was doing so.

Well, Mark has been gone now for 6 years, and I know it with every beat of my heart that no one has visited their gravesite in at least that long, most probably longer. So I’ve begun to wonder about the purpose of cemeteries and markers as they will still be idly sitting there in 100 years with no one caring.

When my mom first died, I only lived about a mile away from the cemetery, and I would stop by fairly regularly. Yes, while my brain understood that she wasn’t there, that tangible sign that this significant person had existed and been a part of my life helped with the need to still feel close to her in some way. Maybe that’s why I kept all of those boxes of photographs, as a tangible marker of people and places and things that mattered to my past. My brother’s ashes, with my dad’s permission, are also buried there, but there is no marker for him.

As I stood there, I realized that it might be my last trip to the actual cemetery and gravesite. I no longer needed it to be a place of active referral of my parents as I had in the past. And I can say with a certain degree of certainty that there may well never be a visit to their marker from anyone else until the end of time. So what’s the purpose? I understand the tradition of burial, but is it time to change the tradition? The expenses are astronomical, as everyone with any sense knows. The cemetery where my parents ashes are buried has gone downhill in upkeep and maintenance (regardless of the sign that had been posted in front of the entrance saying, “Sites available). We had an instance after my dad’s passing which, although everything had been prepaid and planned, took several phone calls to make happen.

Don’t get me wrong – I am grateful that I had that place to go to when I needed to process my grief. I am thankful that I had an opportunity to stop by recently and say aloud the words I wanted to say to my mom. But as I looked out over that vast space of green grass, markers and some flower arrangements/flags, I did start to wonder what that area could be used for that would have an impact even 100 years from now. For example, when those markers mean nothing to anyone, imagine using 2 or 3 sites each to build low-income housing for our veterans, many of whom are homeless. They could be the equivalent of “tiny homes” and could serve a lot of people who served us! And I’m sure, if I wrapped my brain around it, I could find other equally as good ideas, all of which would benefit humanity and not just be another ‘make-a-buck’ idea.

This is going to sit with me for a while, I suspect. There would be opposition by those who are still actively visiting the grave sites, and I completely understand that. Right now it just feels like it’s a waste of space and money when our country is falling apart around us and could better serve us as united Americans in other ways.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Are You Not My Brother?

The poem’s words say it all…..



How is it the color of one’s skin

Somehow defines what is held within

Or the different shape of someone’s eyes

Speaks to all that is found inside


How does a certain ancestry

A derivative of past history

Determine the worth of mortal soul

And relegate them to a given role


How does the God they reflect

Not earn the same kind of respect

That we demand for our own

When who is right remains unknown


How does their place of birth

Determine their only worth

This thing they did not choose

Insignificant and nothing proves


How does their cultural difference

Portray any truth by inference

How do their beloved traditions

Delineate the human condition


How does an odd sounding name

Saddle them with random blame

A long and proud family lineage

Is nothing we should disparage


How does the accent we hear

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