Time to Change

Suddenly, my blog appellation – From Now on I Live Mad – seems even more appropriate these days than when I adopted it back in 2010 (hint: it’s a Rumi poem).  A decade ago, my husband and I had both lost our jobs within a month of each other; we were suddenly unyoked from the daily grind, ejected out into the wilderness of unframed days and blank calendars. The nation was still recovering from the 2008 recession, unemployment was hovering around 9%.  We took small comfort in the notion that our pain was semi-communal; at the time, though we did reap extended unemployment benefits, it felt like we were relatively alone in our personal and professional struggles as no one in our inner circle was similarly affected.  The world went on as usual, people dining out, attending events, going shopping, vacationing, leaving us behind in our gradually shrinking universe we could no longer afford.

Now, not so much.  Checking the headlines each morning is an exercise in fortitude and resiliency.  The news seems to get worse for everyone with each passing hour.  I haven’t checked our retirement accounts since noting a 30% loss three weeks ago (I’m sure it’s much worse now), but at least I’m living in a house without a mortgage and three months supply of food.  Things are so much worse for so many others.  People far away from family, living alone; people who are already sick, pregnant, on dialysis, stricken with cancer, suffering from any number of maladies that require consistent monitoring and treatment; folks still required to report to jobs every day – though they may be happy to have work, it must be frightening to put oneself at risk of exposure in order to eat.  I think of the health care professionals who either voluntarily leave their families every day, putting them at some risk of exposure, or those who are living apart from their families in order to best protect them from community exposure.  These are people walking into corridors of pain and need without adequate protective gear or resources to treat severely ill patients.  How traumatic it must be, day after day, with no end in sight, only the prospect of even greater pain and need with the advent of each subsequent shift.  My heart goes out to every single one of them.  (Hey folks: where are our celebrity heroes in all this, the influencers we follow on Instagram or YouTube, the multi-millionaire athletes we worship through Superbowls, NBA tournaments, and Stanly Cups; the actors whose addictions, romances, weddings, and squabbles we follow slavishly?   Cowering obediently behind closed doors along with everyone else, no different than the rest of us, useless to provide care or treatment during a global health crisis. Can we maybe reassess our priorities through this crisis and acknowledge the real heroes in our world, the ones who actually perform the lifesaving and health-sustaining activities that routinely keep the edifice of society intact?)

What I do appreciate is much less vitriol in my social media feeds.  Each day, I note more efforts being made to find the silver linings, the blessings, the unexpected gifts.  Americans have not been called as a nation to endure communal hardship and uncertainty at this level in most of our lifetimes; we can treat this as a disaster or look at it as a challenging opportunity.  We are at war with a non-living, viral entity that does not respect borders, bans, treaties, or rules of engagement.  Huge swaths of people have been laid off or furloughed from their jobs.  Businesses are closing.  Life as we have known it is gone, most likely for a long time.  We will not recover from this quickly.  How we cope will be the ultimate measure of our character as a people and provide a window on our prospects for the future, when the effects of climate change become terrifyingly pronounced in the coming decade.  I am fervently hoping that this time of respite will launch the conviction and creativity needed to address our looming woes.

What many of us do have now, abundantly, is free time.  Time to set aside the punishing schedules, the priority demands, the gridlock of deadlines, appointments, and commitments that have been crowding us into buzzing hives of relentless activity for so long.  And this surfeit of time is conferring unexpected gifts: lengthy conversations between neighbors standing on their respective lawns; nighttime play dates for the group of college-renters across the street, who come out some nights after dark to play kick ball on our cul-de-sac; free video tutorials from fitness experts, chefs, storytellers, art museums, cartoonists, and musicians; time spent with children who can remind us how to play.

At heart, I am an optimist.  I believe that we have the imagination, the will, and the fortitude to withstand this crisis.  I have faith that, once the immediate danger has passed, folks will emerge from their cocoons, blinking away darkness, into the light of a new way of looking at and being in the world.  Suddenly the balm of endless consumption will be revealed for what it truly is: a false comfort, an unsustainable strategy for authentic happiness. Many of us will have found a place of inner serenity, an appreciation for the relationships in our lives and the actual things that nurture us – a comfortable home, healthy food, access to affordable health care, grounded and knowledgeable leaders.  All the bling in the world cannot substitute for those essentials.

I’m looking forward to the time when we all enjoy them.


And a shout out to the excellent blogger and pen pal  at http://triciatierneyblog.com/ who inspired me to start writing again (for the 5th or 6th time…)  Thank you Tricia – you are another niche of sanity in an insane world.

April 27, 1985-2019

Today my 36-year-old nephew marries his longtime girlfriend at his family’s ranch in Merced, California, turning a date which for 34 years has been saturated in sadness and loss into one of celebration and welcome. Quite unknowingly, he and his fiancé selected the anniversary of his paternal aunt’s – his father and my sister’s – untimely death for their nuptials. My family couldn’t be more grateful and glad. Finally, a happy ending to a dreadful commemoration.

In the last decade, I admit that the date often comes and goes without me paying heed to its significance. How long can one actively grieve, after all? I was 24-, my sister Lorraine 20-years old, when she died. Given our age difference and the fact that I left home at 17 and was largely out of contact with her until I moved back home at 22, my conscious experience of her as an individual is constrained to perhaps 15 or 16 years of episodic memories. And that becomes an increasingly smaller ratio of my life as each year passes. One of the tragedies inherent in dying young is that one’s persona is forever frozen, never accruing the experiential strata that deepen and flavor a personality and connect us to other people. So, Lorraine fades as time accrues, as she is unable to maintain meaningful bridges into the lives of those of us who remain.   No one can ever dissect, commiserate or appreciate her college years, her serious romantic relationships, her career successes and failures, her children’s unique characters and miens, her pursued interests, abandoned dreams, lost causes, or significant personal triumphs. They were all killed in that head-on collision on a dark canyon road in 1985. (I used to picture her suddenly liberated soul floating about the location, untethered, for months after the accident. Did she know that she was dead? Is there a legitimate case to be made for “knowing” you are dead? I don’t wonder about that anymore. It’s been way too long for her still to be lost, if she ever was indeed.)

My grandmother, Lorraine’s namesake, will turn 98 in less than a month. For the past couple years, because she is open regarding her readiness to die, I do not think of her eventual passing as “tragic” or heartbreaking. My memories of her are rich and robust: I distinctly remember many of her milestone birthdays – 50, 65 (she retired), 75, 90. I don’t think it improbable that she will see 100. Yet, she, too, is fading as time inexorably flows. Her ability to span the divide between herself and her family (all her friends have died) is almost completely constrained. Leaving the house solely for medical appointments, she spends all day in her pajamas and bathrobe, reading in her favorite chair. She will not attend her great-grandson’s wedding and feels no guilt nor regret for not doing more. At this point in her life, experience is passively attenuated, never actively curated. And because of this she is becoming increasingly immobile, frozen in time. The less present she is for each progressing moment, the less we will feel her absence when it becomes irrevocable.

In the end, what do we have of anyone in our lives but our memories of them? Each passing minute, most of them not continuously spent in their presence, describes a growing gulf between us and them. For some, that gulf is only days, perhaps months, wide and is easily surmounted the next time we see them. For others, the gap can lengthen into lives diverged, an unspecified point passed which, unknowingly, marked the limit of our mutual ability to recognize and commune with each other. There are people whose presence I believed essential to my daily existence once upon a time (my ex-husband springs to mind or my very best friend from high school) who could be dead now and it would not affect me in the slightest.

I often ponder how I will be a name that might surface (or not) at Thanksgiving dinner in the year 2095, an atavistic tale told by my now two-year-old grandsons to their probably bored great-grand kids under unimaginable (for me) circumstances. We are all destined to fade away and in the grand scheme of things a life of 20 or 98 years is of equal, unimportant length to those who hold no memories of us. Meanwhile, I am glad to welcome another iteration of family to the layers that lie beneath.