The Clock is Ticking…

H  ow did the holidays get here so fast?

A  few weeks ago we were eating turkey

P  retty soon the stores were filled with Christmas

P  iles of gift catalogs throughout the house

Y  esterday we hung the lights outside

 

H  ow will we ever be ready in time for Christmas?

O  n December 17th we are leaving for Germany

L  ots of things to prepare for our trip

I   f only the next few days would slow down

D  estinations: Berlin, Dresden, Weimar

A  lot of miles to travel to see people we love

Y  es, it’s the trip of a lifetime

S  ee you in 2016!

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Teaching and Terrorism

Emotions and thoughts have been swirling through my mind since I heard about the acts of terrorism in Paris this past weekend. Paris is a city I love dearly, having lived there for over a year in the 70’s in my mid-twenties and returning many times to visit.

I first began reading about the banlieues (outskirts or suburbs) of Paris about a decade ago. This was not the Paris I first experienced. It had become a city of haves and have nots, with the native insiders living within the city and the outsiders/immigrants relegated to substandard lives on the outskirts of the city. These outsiders burned cars and trashed their neighborhoods as a way of expressing their frustration and anger.  Eventually things returned to the status quo and their frustration was forgotten.

This past year the news of the violence that took place at Charlie Hebdo, the French newspaper whose cartoons mocked the Muslim extremists, reminded us of that anger. The lives of several French cartoonists and journalists were taken in another outburst of hatred toward French culture. The world responded with sympathy (“I am Charlie Hebdo”) and a renewed vow to celebrate “free speech.”

But this past weekend’s events, in which local terrorists took the lives of over 100 Parisians, remind us again that this hatred is not dead. More extreme and widespread violence has just begun, and we are now wondering what to do next to contain or combat extremists throughout the world.

image

This is where teaching comes into the discussion. I am so proud of my profession; moreso than ever. In the United States teachers are the ambassadors of plurality, seeking to find ways to assimilate and educate our newcomers as they arrive at our borders and in our airports.

This is not to say that all teachers welcome undocumented immigrants and their families; prejudice and scorn often rear their heads in faculty lunchrooms. But even those who do not appreciate our tolerance for immigrants understand that our nation was built on their efforts and continues to flourish in many ways because of them. They also understand that building a wall is not the best way to solve the immigrant dilemma.  Supporting the assimilation of immigrant children and their families into our culture is how our nation will continue to sustain its principles of freedom and equality.

image

I have often questioned my own beliefs as a teacher of English to immigrant students over the past several decades. But I have always come to the conclusion that becoming more understanding of people from other cultures, while helping their children to become better educated and assimilated, is the only way to continue to build a foundation of trust and strength.

I am particularly proud of my fellow English as a Second Language teachers.  We are often not held in high regard in our own schools or communities because of the controversial work we do, but we are the best advocates in our educational system for making sure that all children have equal access to a good education. Education is terrorism’s worst enemy and the best weapon we have for preserving our values.

Living the Dream, Then Dying for It

(NY Times, August 7, 2018. Story by Rakmini Callimachi)

With so much bad news in abundance, I was recently drawn to an article in the New York Times about a young American couple who decided to take a “gap year” from their very busy lives to experience “living in real time.” Both very accomplished Georgetown graduates, they met, fell in love, and began to share a dream. Some say she was very influenced by his lifestyle of global wandering and living on the edge. Others might say they were a perfect match to pursue their dream together.

FRANCE Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan began their trip in July 2017. They reached Europe in December.CreditSimplycycling.org

I was hooked on their story. Their dream was to wander the globe to experience the goodness of humanity.

“There’s magic out there, in this great big beautiful world,” wrote Jay Austin who, along with his partner, Lauren Geoghegan, gave his two weeks’ notice last year before shipping his bicycle to Africa.

Their story struck a very deep chord in me since I have a son who has very similar aspirations.  A graduate of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, he has also wandered off the grid alone on several occasions in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.  He has that gene that provokes him to explore and have experiences that the more timid among us can only imagine.

As his mother, I first experienced this genetic disposition when he was 16 and made a serious argument to me and his Dad for going to Africa to visit the camp of a young researcher (and his wife and child) to study the wild dog population of the Okavanga Delta in Botswana, Africa. Eventually I agreed for several reasons: He was a “mature” 16 year old who usually made smart decisions;  he had a good “connection” to a situation that would offer him this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; he was persistent and stubborn about going on this adventure. While I understood his desire to experience an adventure with an uncertain outcome as I had done the same in my early 20’s when I set out to explore Europe on my own with nothing but a backpack in the mid-70’s, Africa clearly presented more potential for danger.

As I watched him turn away from us, his family, to walk down the ramp to his plane bound for South Africa, my thoughts were: I may never see him again, but if he dies, he will die doing what he loves and what he has chosen to do.  It was a deal I had to make with myself to accept the uncertainty of what lay ahead. In fact, he did have several life-threatening experiences with lions and hyenas, but his levelheadedness got him out of both jams. Now, when I tell his story, I describe it as his “walk-about”…the Aboriginal practice of a young man setting out alone into the wilderness to “become a man.”

On social media, the two adventurers reported having many ups and downs on the road, but mostly they continued to be motivated by the generosity and kindness of strangers they met along the way. This is the point of such adventures…for them and for my son who experienced many acts of kindness on their journeys.

But unlike my son’s adventures thus far, theirs did not have a happy ending.  A few days after their one year anniversary of being on the road while on a biking tour in Tajikistan, a random carload of young Islamic extremists spotted their cycling group as they drove by them, made a quick u-turn, and mowed them down deliberately. The NY Times showed a picture of the young murderers who reveled in their luck at having killed a group of “infidels.”

This could have been my son and his girlfriend/partner, or your son or daughter. I think often of the two sets of parents and wonder how they are processing what happened to their children. Do they take comfort in knowing that they were chasing their dream, doing what they most wanted to do in life? Or do they wish they had urged them to be more cautious; perhaps even advising them not to be so trustworthy or to avoid certain places. If they were like my son, their words of caution would probably have fallen on deaf ears. He always finds more reasons to explore than not. After all, the world is an enormous, enticing place that beckons to be experienced. I understand that and feel the same way, but as a young woman, I was more cautious.

Have circumstances nowadays changed to make such a journey more dangerous than ever before? Or were there always dangers associated with extreme traveling? How do we feel about the tension between exploring the untamed world vs. living a life of greater security and less bliss? How would I now feel if my son had died while pursuing his dream? As teachers and/or parents, should we encourage young adults to follow their dreams?

There are no right or wrong answers; the answers depend on the individuals themselves.  Everyone has to make choices about how they want to live, and sometimes how they want to die.  This couple shared a short-lived, but amazing  dream together…of their own choosing and my heart goes out to their families.

Summer Moments in Haiku

I’ve been unable to post for several weeks due to a painful frozen shoulder, plus bursitis. I’m limiting myself to shorter posts for now. Today I’m offering a collection of summer haiku.

 

Summer Moments…

Drop all other plans today
high tide in Bayville
salt water summer swim

Cumulus clouds
hover over Long Island Sound
rain falls on Connecticut

A flash of sandpipers
lands at water’s edge
girl cries “Baby seagulls!”

We tread water together
Andy says to me
“This is as good as it gets!”

Sitting on the beach
I see myself as a girl
mimicking mermaids

I hope you’ve all been able to find some respite from this dreadful prolonged summer heat and humidity.  Bayville, a tiny community on the North Shore of LI, is where I lived from age 9. We sold the family home about 15 years ago so I no longer have resident privileges to swim there.  On this particular day, an old friend who lives in Bayville invited me for a swim.

Snip,snip…the End of an Era

(https://www.ihadcancer.com/h3-blog/07-13-2015/20-inspirational-cancer-quotes-for-survivors-fighters-caregivers

 

Snip, snip. Within 30 seconds it was over. I had just entered the room and wasn’t even paying attention to the surgeon as I spoke to his nurse standing beside me. As we were talking, the surgeon gently pulled the collar of my tee shirt down below the stitches on my upper right chest, snipped twice with his scissors and it was done. For me, it was the end of an era; my chemo port had been removed from the site two weeks earlier by the same doctor and now all I had left was a red scar.

I was almost disappointed at how uneventful the procedure was. For me the removal of my chemo port symbolized so much. I was expecting a bit more of a production. Perhaps lying on the patient bed, being draped around the site of the stitches, having the doctor sit beside me while he carefully pulled out the threads. But, no, there he stood, grinning at me. I’m not sure whether he was grinning because he had tricked me, or because he was happy for me, or both. I like to think the latter.

Anyone who is a cancer survivor can vividly remember having to endure certain rites of passage as a cancer patient. For many of us, getting a chemo port inserted into the chest area signals the beginning of the dreaded chemo treatment period. It is put there to make things easier; so that each time blood must be drawn for analysis, it can be done more easily through the port than by inserting needles into the arm, hand or wherever else may be necessary to deliver the chemo cocktail. It is, in fact, very helpful in streamlining that process. It seems a small thing, but it makes a big difference in enduring the various ordeals a chemo patient must endure.

It does require attention. Following two months of chemo treatment, accompanied by daily radiation doses, I was told to come back to the oncology unit every 4 to 6 weeks to have my chemo port “flushed” so it would continue to be viable. I did not dread those visits; the worst was already over. In fact, I looked forward to seeing the oncology staff who become so important to me. They are the “hands-on healers.” And besides, I had been through the worst of it, so this port-flush stuff was “easy peasy.”

It has been four years since cancer was first identified. It was several months later that the port was inserted.  For four years I have lived with a small bump on my chest that most people probably wouldn’t even notice. That small device had been punctured dozens of times in the past four years, and then one day it stopped doing its job. It could still be “flushed” but it was getting quite difficult and sometimes impossible to draw blood through the port. My oncologist said it was time to have it out.

I am not the first cancer survivor to bond with her port. Others have told me they keep it in because they are superstitious. Mine was kept in as a precaution. Because my cancer was so advanced and had metastasized, I was considered high risk even though there was no sign of cancer in my body two months after my treatments ended. There was a very strong possibility, however, that the cancer would come back and I would need the port so I was given a two-year period to keep it in. Somehow another year and a half passed and it was still there.  It had become part of me.

Then during one recent visit, my oncologist said, “Why do you still have the port?” I replied, “Because you haven’t yet told me to get it out.” Then I finally made the appointment to  have it removed early this summer.

So last week I had the followup visit to have the stitches removed. I celebrated by having  lunch with a local friend who is also a cancer survivor. We both know how lucky we are to be alive. She’s had cancer three times. Sometimes it’s good to talk about these things with someone who has been on a similar journey. And, so, one of the most terrifying and stressful times of my life symbolically ended not with a bang, but with a snip, snip.

It’s So Hot ….

photo above: https://www.occupy.com/article/first-signs-global-climate-change-immigration-crisis-are-here#sthash.bb2ie5Hz.dpbs

We’ve all heard this statement at one time or another:
“It’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.”

Here are some of my  thoughts regarding the heat wave we’re currently experiencing in the northeast.

It’s so hot… I haven’t left my house (with AC) in two days except to water the outdoor plants
It’s so hot… sunscreen melts right off my face
It’s so hot… the birds are lined up at the bird bath to take a refreshing dip
It’s so hot… it’s too hot to go to the beach
It’s so hot… tiny ants are coming into the house for relief
It’s so hot… even the weeds are wilting
It’s so hot… the AC is constantly running (and so is the bill)
It’s so hot… the bees aren’t showing up for the newly blossoming bee balm
It’s so hot… I’m thinking of putting on a bathing suit to go for a swim (at my age that’s an act of courage)
It’s so hot… we’re eating only fruit and salads to keep our calorie intake lower
It’s so hot… even thunderstorms don’t cool things off
It’s so hot… the leaf blowers are silent in the neighborhood

There’s an article in the NY Times Sunday Week-in-Review section (July 1), Fleeing a Warmer World (by Lauren Markham), about how drought caused by climate change is driving vast numbers of people to leave their homes in Central America and in desert areas of Africa. People who have lived for centuries in these areas can no longer subsist: they are desperate for ways to feed their families and so they are on the move. This is not the first time migration on this scale has happened in the history of the world. The Abandonment of Chaco Canyon in our own Southwest, for example, believed to have occurred about 1150, has long been attributed at least partially to a drought that literally drove the Anasazi cliff-dwellers from their homes, never to return.


White House, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
(https://ridb.recreation.gov/images/80267.jpg)


Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon
(http://archeyes.com/pueblo-bonito/)

In the period between A.D. 1125 and 1180, very little rain fell in the region. After 1180, rainfall briefly returned to normal. From 1270 to 1274 there was another long drought, followed by another period of normal rainfall. In 1275, yet another drought began. This one lasted 14 years.

When this cycle of drought began, Anasazi civilization was at its height. Communities were densely populated. Even with good rains, the Anasazi were using their land to its limits. Without rain, it was impossible to grow enough food to support the population. Widespread famine occurred. People left the area in large numbers to join other pueblo peoples to the south and east, abandoning the Chaco Canyon pueblos and, later, the smaller communities that surrounded them. Anasazi civilization began a long period of migration and decline after these years of drought and famine. By the 1300s, it had all but died out in Chaco Canyon.

Was drought alone the only factor in the mass abandonment of the pueblos? Some archaeologists now believe that other factors — religious upheaval, internal political conflict, or even warfare — may have combined to exacerbate the effects of the drought. Whatever the root causes of the famine were, the archaeological evidence clearly shows it was devastating to the Anasazi.
(https://www.learner.org/exhibits/collapse/chacocanyon.html)

In the early 1980s when I was a young mother with a newborn and a toddler, we lived in a simple ranch style house with no AC. I remember the summer days of extreme heat all too well. I sat in the backyard under our large oak tree with my feet in a kiddie pool where my toddler son sat while I tried to nurse my baby who was literally stuck to my overheated, sweating body. I had never felt hotter in my life until now. I distinctly remember thinking “so this is how the poor people of the world live; at least those close to the equator.” Escaping the heat was all I could think of during heat spells and we had plenty of them in the ’80s. It’s no wonder people are again migrating across deserts and oceans in search of a drop of water, relief from the extreme heat and a place more hospitable to raising a family. If I were them, I’d be doing the same.

Walt Whitman and Thoughts of My Dad

I am fortunate to live near the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association on Long Island, NY,  the actual place where Whitman was born. I feel fortunate because whenever I attend a poetry reading or other event there, I always come away feeling that my life has been enriched. Sunday’s visit was no exception.

Walt Whitman, Wikipedia

The WWBA has selected as its theme for this year, Walt Whitman Celebrating Women. Because Whitman is commonly regarded as having been homosexual (even though there is little concrete evidence to prove that assumption), the decision by the WWBA to focus on his relationships with, and high regard for women,  came as something of a surprise to me. I was curious to learn more.

Sunday’s event was a lecture/discussion about the role played by Whitman in the lives of women who were his contemporaries. The lecture  was presented by Professor Carol Singley of Rutgers University-Camden who has spent a major part of her academic career doing research on and writing about Elizabeth Wharton who happened to be a supporter of  Whitman.

Edith Wharton, Wikipedia

Professor Singley  is a delightful speaker as well as an internationally known scholar of Edith Wharton and other literary figures of the late 19th century. She is someone I wish I’d had the good fortune to meet in my own undergraduate years as an English major.  In her lecture today she cited many references to Whitman’s poetry and prose that reflect his view of women as equal to men and his desire to see them treated as such in the public realm. In Whitman, Wharton found a kindred spirit.  In her essay, “Sketch of an Essay on Walt Whitman” she wrote:

Particularly valuing his ability to observe “Nature as a seer, not a Naturalist” (“Sketch”), she found another soul who lived in reality and “in dreams’ projections” (Leaves, 243). Whitman gave her permission to be an artist, to sing her individual song. Above all, he provided a model of a self-made man, something Wharton ironically liked to think herself. Her autobiography, which borrows its title from his, A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads, shows her trying to articulate the forces-physical, emotional, moral, intellectual, and aesthetic..,-that shaped her personality. Her memoir’s truncated title, A Backward Glance, which almost begs the reader to place Wharton’s vision alongside Whitman’s as an American original, perhaps comments on the different, though related, roads she saw them travelling: his, imaginatively solid beneath his feet; hers, in recollection. 

(Edith Wharton ‘s “Sketch of an Essay on Walt Whitman ” by Susan Goodman; Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 1992)

I also appreciated her references to a long list of authors from the mid to late 1800s, including Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper) and Kate Chopin (The Awakening), whose novels used the suppression of women as their jumping off point. For me the lecture was an opportunity to revisit some authors I had read long ago and to learn more about them and the poet whose vision has changed my own life.

What I was not prepared for was an epiphany I had during the followup Q and A session. There was some back and forth discussion about how Whitman served as a new kind of mentor for the masses. He appreciated nature in the broadest sense, good health in the wholistic sense, and he celebrated the freedom to express one’s innermost desires and feelings. Someone asked: “What about Whitman’s father? What role did he play in his life?”  The Executive Director responded that she felt he played a significant role as a mentor to his son. She referred to Whitman’s father as a master carpenter who through his work as a builder (he built their home on Long Island) served as a role model for Whitman through his mastery of his skills, his creativity and his fortitude which he applied to  “building”  a home and a life for his family.

This brief discussion of the role Whitman’s father may have played in his development set off bells in my head. I shared with the audience that my own father, who had eight children, an eighth-grade education and a youth of deep poverty in the rural south, built our family home himself, just like Whitman’s father.  Forever after he was a role model for me of independence, confidence, hard work, innate wisdom and devotion to family.  I realized I had never quite thought of him in the role of mentor until today.

Ironically, in seeking to learn more about Whitman’s relationship to women, I also learned something new about my relationship with my father. This revelation, I believe, would have made Whitman very happy.

 

 

 

 

https://moreart4all.wordpress.com/posts/

Florence…is not Venice!

(Above photo: https://dreamofitaly.com/explore-italy/florence-2/)

My daughter and I traveled to Italy in late April to celebrate her 35th birthday. I recently wrote several posts about Venice, our first stop in Italy and today I’m moving on to Florence, our second stop on our tour.

Florence is not Venice!  For me, these two cities couldn’t be more different.  As soon as you arrive in the open vista of the Grand Canal of Venice you feel “the sky’s the limit.”  It’s such a magical, beautiful and restless place that anything seems possible.  Florence is a much more secretive place; its secrets are well kept behind its walls.

I visited Florence nearly 45 years ago; needless to say, much has changed.  My memories of Florence are of a  small city almost like a village, with a unique dome-shaped cathedral at its center, lots of crazy Italian drivers zooming around the city center in their hot sports cars, and of the Ponte Vecchio where young, attractive hippies displayed  their crafts to tourists visiting the bridge.  I remembered a much quieter, less crowded city. This time I found the scene on the bridge a little too noisy and much too crowded for my taste. My only other memory of Florence  is almost being locked out of my hostel because I returned so late one night.  I was given a cot in the hallway to sleep on!  Oh, I almost forgot.  I also took a bus ride to Fiesole one day, just to have a glimpse of the beautiful Tuscan countryside, where I met two Greek medical students who spoke no English (and I no Greek) and who showed me the local sites.

This time my lodgings were a solidly middle-class hotel, Hotel Adler Cavalieri, a vigorous twenty-minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio along the Via della Scala, dotted with hotels.  And I went to bed a lot earlier this time around! Upon our arrival at the hotel my daughter and I asked for a recommendation for dinner and were given the name of a small place across from the Pitti Palace.

Our first stop of the day was a tour of the Uffizi Gallery. My son insisted that this be our first stop in Florence as it holds a concentration of some of the most famous  Italian artists during the Renaissance such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Filippo Lippi, Giotto, Caravaggio and Leonardo da Vinci. What is even more amazing is that the building (uffizi means offices in Italian) was constructed for the sole use of the Medici family members who actually spent very short periods of time there.

My daughter has had a copy of Botticelli’s painting of The Birth of Venus hanging over her bed for a decade so she was eager to see the original canvas.  But she was even more fascinated by the discovery of another of his paintings, La Primavera, and so was I.

Uffizi Gallery

We left the Uffizi amazed at its riches and entered the Boboli gardens that surround it.  As we walked in the shade of the cypress trees that overhang a path that is centuries old, I tried to absorb what we had just seen; it was overwhelming.

Our walk to dinner required that we next walk across the Arno River on the Ponte Vecchio, so off we went. It was a landmark I recalled with some detail.  I had no recollection of the streets that led to the bridge, so nothing seemed familiar. It’s possible I had stayed somewhere much closer 45 years ago.  When we finally reached the banks of the Arno, I could see the Ponte Vecchio in the distance.  The view included a stretch of a walkway along the Arno and a view of the hills behind the old city which I did not recall seeing on my first visit.

Alas, when we finally reached the Ponte Vecchio, it was swarming with tourists. It was late in the afternoon, so most of the jewelry stalls were already closed.

The Ponte Vecchio is now well known for its gold and jewelry merchants who sell their wares on the bridge in small, quaint stalls. It was hard to believe it was once where the butchers of the town executed (no pun intended) their skills.

“…in 1593 duke Ferdinand I decided to allow only goldsmiths and jewelers to hold shops on Ponte Vecchio because former tenants produced too much garbage and foul smells.” http://www.bridgesdb.com/bridge-list/ponte-vecchio/

With so many tourists crowding the bridge amid a circus-like atmosphere, and in the heat of the day, I did not experience the same charm I had felt on my first visit. A small group of local musicians we stumbled upon further along the bridge helped erase that feeling.

We soon found the restaurant, Olivia, which is one of Europe’s new “green” restaurants with a vegetarian non-GMO menu and farm-to-table produce.  The woman who served us turned out to be the proprietor and heiress of an olive oil producer in Tuscany.  This was her first venture in the restaurant business and she was absolutely charming and accommodating.  I no longer remember what we ate, but I was sure we would probably not have a better meal during our stay.

Just opposite the restaurant across a very narrow street was the Pitti Palace.  We found its facade to be rather ugly since what could have been an expansive front lawn was completely paved over making it seem quite uninviting on this very warm day.  After seeing the gorgeous waterfront palazzos along the Grand Canal in Venice, this was a disappointment.

After our sumptuous meal, we walked back to our hotel.  On the way, to refresh ourselves after a rather warm day, we stopped in a piazza to sample the gelato. We spied a high table with two high, metal bar stools and headed for them.

As I mounted my stool it slid out from under me on the cobblestones and suddenly, there I was, flat on my bum! Other than being humiliated and a bit in shock I was ok (thank goodness). One onlooker said, “il gelato es intacto!” It was true; I had managed to hold on to my gelato and it was, indeed, still intact and delicious!

It was getting late and there was nothing I could do to top my gelato performance, so we wearily headed back to our hotel. The final 10 minutes of our walk were  agonizing for me; after so much walking in Venice, my dogs were tired. Fortunately, Hotel Adler Cavalieri was very welcoming and it was time to hit the sack!

(http://www.hoteladlercavalieri.com/photogallery/)

Next week: Another day in Florence

Grim News Inspires Gratitude

It’s been a week of unusually bad news. Not the “what did Trump do now” kind of news; not the “volcanic eruption kills 500 in a small village in….” kind of news . This was the week that two famous people who seemed like they “had it all” chose to commit suicide.

I was not an avid fan of Anthony Bourdain, altho’ I liked his Parts Unknown tv program whenever I watched one of the episodes.  I knew nothing about his personal life but I enjoyed his on-the-edge philosophy and his omnivorous gusto. Kate Spade wasn’t really on my radar much either because I am not a person who pays much attention to fashion. I do remember my 16-year-old son (now 35) telling me that some of the girls in his high-school class (of some means) were infatuated with the brand. I knew nothing about her personal life either.

This morning while indulging in my favorite pastime…reading the New York Times at leisure… I delved into the news coverage about their recent deaths.  I wanted to know “why.” From what I read, it seemed that Bourdain was chasing demons for much of his life. But he kept that darker side from the public, and wisely so. He was enormously talented, energetic, irreverent and driven…not an easy way to live. He seemed to  channel much of his angst into whatever work he appeared to be doing at the time.  That approach seemed to work, most of the time. And then it didn’t.

Kate Spade was equally talented in a very different way and also very driven.  A person who “came out of nowhere” to make her stamp in the world of fashion and then became rich is,  by definition, a taste setter and go-getter. Although her life seemed almost “normal” in comparison to Bourdain’s edgy journey,  she, too, seemed to channel her hyper-energy into her work. And she also chose not to share her dark side. Until she did.

While sitting on my patio on a gorgeous sunny day,  I contemplated what I could learn from their deaths. What I came up with was “gratitude.” I have had no more joy or no fewer challenges than the next person. My 35-year-old daughter has suffered five open-heart surgeries and is now struggling to make sense of her life; my 36-year-old son who had cancer at 25 and now has a promising career,  is now struggling with his partner to have a child. I had fourth-stage metastasized cancer and am lucky enough to still be alive and cancer-free three years later. My husband, who is in better health, works hard to be a good provider. Together we have achieved a certain level of material comfort in our lives, but it did not come easily. Both of us came from working-class families who did not have an education beyond high school, so we were pretty much on our own when breaking through middle-class boundaries. Our journey through life has had some extremely challenging moments, but there have been rewards along the way.

I am extremely grateful for the life I now have. I am grateful that there were treatments available for me and my children that were not available in the past, and have enabled us to continue to live full,  meaningful lives. I am grateful that after a long struggle with unsatisfying work,  I was able to land a job as a teacher in my mid-40’s that offered me the opportunity to save for the future and purchase a comfortable home. I am grateful that I live in a very beautiful spot on the North Shore of LI near where I lived as a child, a place that allows me to enjoy my love of nature in the nearby wetlands and woods. I am grateful that despite my mounting physical annoyances I can still take a walk around the pond in my local park or a vacation in Europe. I am grateful I can still read to my heart’s content as that has always been one of my favorite indulgences. I am grateful that I have cultivated lifelong friendships that continue to sustain me as life becomes more challenging.

In full disclosure, my own life has been a struggle of sorts. I battled severe depression in my late twenties and did not have the resources or support I needed at the time. There was a year in my life that I had such anxiety I suffered from acute insomnia. But I am one of the lucky ones. I fought my way through it, married and had children and a career.

Antidepressants have been part of my life for a long while and will probably continue to be necessary for the remainder of it. I am not ashamed of that fact, but wish I had access to them sooner. I also wish that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had the same outcome I have had. But just as their lives were more “successful” than mine and had more impact than mine, clearly their demons were more powerful than mine and they succumbed.

Today I feel sorrow for those who struggle with mental illness and eventually are overwhelmed by it and a deep sense of gratitude for my simple, ordinary life.