Monday, December 29, 2014

The Perfect Gift

Here's the way I see it:  By the time you're 70 you've gotten every sweater you'll ever want to get, and you only wear two anyway. You have every household item anyone could want. Twice. You're trying to clean crap out not bring more in.

Generally speaking by the time you're 70 you're practical in your needs, simple in your tastes, wise in your choices. If you're not, you probably missed a step.

You don't wear tons of jewelry, you don't eat crazy foods or care for expensive venues. You don't appreciate tight, uncomfortable theater seats. You do everything you can to avoid being cold.

So my mom is turning 70 and I've been really killing myself to think of the perfect gift. I've wanted her to be able to celebrate in a big way - or at least a memorable way - with as many people as she could. But it's been impossible, precisely because she's at an age where she doesn't want much. My dilemma is made all the more challenging by her struggles with health issues, which make it hard to take her out or have loud, busy parties with lots of people.

Then it came to me! The one thing my mom loves more than anything else is to read. And while I do my best to provide supply, she devours everything you give her and she has read so much it's hard to find new things.

That's where you come in: I'm asking - I'm begging - could you write me a letter for my mom? It could be to her if you know her, or to no one in particular, or just the re-telling of a funny little story, or a joke (clean, please), or any little thing, a favorite saying and why, a memory, an ode. I'll collect all the tidbits into a book and give it to her for her birthday, and I'll sign your name (if you'd like) to the card. You can send to me via FB comment or PM or send to my email: carrodcares@gmail.com

I know this is a big ask, but I'm desperate to show my quiet, introverted, sweet, kind, gentle, and generous soul of a mother that she is deeply loved and appreciated for her 70 years on earth. I think this kind of gift might just do it. In fact, it might be the perfect gift.

We are celebrating her big day on Sunday January 11th so I'd need your note by Friday, January 9th to get it done.

Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me make this day special.

~Carmen

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I Bought A Crooked Christmas Tree

I bought a crooked Christmas tree this year. He's terribly crooked, actually. So much so that his crown appears to be standing behind him.

I'm usually very particular when I select a tree - just the right height, it has to be, not too broad, not too narrow, only a certain green will do.

But when I saw this tree, he just took my breath away.

I recounted tearfully to my son, why I absolutely had to have him. 'Imagine being a tree,' I told him. 'Full, and lush and green in some forest somewhere. And everyone around you is growing straight and strong just as they should. And you are warping and twisting, trying as hard as you might but still going entirely the wrong way. I would think your mother would watch over you even more carefully. Imagine then that you were cut down, taken away from your comfort, knowing you were going to your death. The only reward for this suffering would be that you might get to be a Christmas tree for a family. You would be brightly lit and decorated and sung around and adored. And then imagine that when the families came to select a tree, every time you were passed over. No one wanted you. Can you imagine that? So I just had to bring him home.'

I was sobbing by the time I finished. My son looked at me like I'd grown a fish out of my forehead. He hugged me nonetheless, being the good boy he is, and when the girls came down and looked at the scene he just waved them off and we stood there until I shook off my melancholy.

The thing is, it's not just about the tree.  It's about an imperfect world, my city so worn and weary from its troubles, my children's schools, a million things. All of these things capable of great glory and wonder, broken in places, entirely wrong in others. I wish I could fix all of those things. I wish I could get people to see.

The message of the season is not, 'Be pretty, even if you have to pretend. Love and appreciate only the right and righteous in life. You must pass by the ugly, disregard the broken.' 

What good is there in that?

The message of the season is, 'Love even the twisted and failing. Love before all other things. Love as He loves, completely and without judgement of your flaws. You are all ways beautiful.'

So I bought a crooked Christmas tree.  And I love him. Isn't he grand?





Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Party is Over

Fairness and Righteousness are shy cousins. Until you get to know them.

Anger is bold in the room, first in line, and full of fire. But she burns quickly and dies. She cannot stand. Revenge can be slow to arrive, but he is childish, and sullen. He's often sent to sleep early by Justice, left to sulk, unspeaking. Lazy cannot be bothered from the couch, let him sleep. Talk is cheap, she's been told, no matter her power to persuade. She winks at you and sallies off. Truth talks only to her twin in her sleep, rarely heard in shine. So when Pain and Hurt arrive, all rush to the center (save for Lazy, dozing as her norm). And while these banter, Fairness and Righteousness sit quietly in a corner, huddled. Until Justice weakens at her knee.

Casting aside their plain and wear these are the goddesses bright in the place, standing giant and unmovable, tremors at their steps. You can bluster, foolish, past all the rest but these hold the walls that keep safe, and strong in their shadows are we all. You can tire of waiting but they come to the fore only on their own calling. Throw your bricks, so what? You do nothing for the better.

Bring yourself to the guardians and stand, fair and righteous. That is the end.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Not Just Decoration

My home is decorated with my family.


 In fact, I try to make sure their photos are in every room, so you can't miss them.



It's important to me that both you and I know, and remember,
where I come from.


Because although I was born here, my great grandparents, my grandparents and my dad were not. 


So when you see me, and I am not brown or dirty or unable to speak English clearly, you may get the impression that I'm one of "us", not one of "them".


But that hand holding my handsome husband back when he was a beautiful baby is an immigrant hand. His parents were not born here. He is one of "us" but they are one of "them". The man sitting beside me here as I take my first steps is my dad, an immigrant, a "them".


The smiling silver-haired gentleman in the picture here, with my lovely grandmother, was also a "them", didn't speak a lick of English (except to curse you out if you beat him at cards). 

And these are my children. I couldn't have these - 

looking all American and fabulous - without those who came before. They were brown and dirty and did not speak English. And they worked wicked jobs and tore their skin in cold and muck so that my children could be treated with a softness in life my grandfather only dreamed about. They were beaten down in deed and in word, hurt and cold and undeterred. And with all that, they had the bitter dignity of calling themselves American, so that I could, so that my children could.

I believe in the rule of law, and I am loathe to see it trampled for any reason. Where the law fails, where it has failed many times and the weak and meek have failed to step forward to make a change, some must come forward to light the fire. We all know this, which is why when we see someone being robbed we shout and rush forward to help. There's a crime being committed, after all. But when we see someone tending to a neighbor's garden, we smile and wave and walk on. We buy our produce without pause, we lean back when the young man comes to bus our table, we tip the man who comes to our door with take-out, many of us buy elotes from a cart outside our child's baseball game. Have you ever called the police to report the undocumented housekeeper who tends to your hotel room?

The weak Republicans and meek Democrats who have had the power of legislation in their hands for generations, and who will keep it long after this President has become a dusty page in a book no one reads, have a responsibility they have failed to meet. The hour has long gone when it was time to do something to address the impotence of our current immigration system. Pomp and bluster no longer entertain. Action is the call of the day. 

Hush your hypocrisy lest you shame the ancestry that offered you the very right you have to dishonor. Self-awareness is your gift, if any can repay. When you step into the arena, fresh with your American hair, your American clothes, clean with your American soap and healthy with your American food, upheld by your American good fortune, remember who you are. Be thankful and lend your hand to the next. That is what it means to be an American. 

Patriotism, like a photo, is not just for decoration.



Thursday, November 20, 2014

It's On Me

Before I immerse myself in the season of thanks and goodness allow me a moment? Blame this on the fact that my doctor has insisted I switch to decaf and I believe the months of detox are having some sort of reverse effect. In my head, all day, I've been screaming.

SHUT UP.

SHUT UP. 
SHUT UP. 
SHUT UP. 
SHUT UP. 
SHUT UP! 

I wish I could shout that loudly enough for all the inanity in the world to hear it and shut itself up. Unfortunately, I can't rile myself to stand much lest shout from treetops. I'm stuck under the weight of all the stupidity that has left its silt on me so far in life, such that I fear I may be slug-like in my gait by the time I'm 50.

While there are students being taken, raped and murdered in parts of the world, we here are struggling to give as much air time to assholes like Ted Cruz as possible. Because that's what matters to us. If your child had been taken, raped and murdered would Ted Cruz matter to you? If it would, you frighten me. (And I'd argue one of your own has been taken, as we are all children of the same world.)

You know what else frightens me?  People who are surprised the holidays are here 'early'. Again. Hey guys! It's cold in Chicago in the winter, it's always Christmas after Halloween now, and has been for years, and Christmas music is sickly sweet and tiresome after a few days. What makes all of it unbearably Groundhog Day-ish is everyone walking up to one another on a daily basis saying, "Man it's cold out there - I can't believe it!" and "I can't believe they already have holiday decorations up - can you?" I can believe it and so should you. 

Moving on.

I am up to here (top of my curly little head) with the presumption of sinister motives behind every single thing anyone does. The current Pope is talking like he knows what Christ was all about and our out-going Cardinal's response to that is, essentially, "Don't be fooled. He's a hardliner just like me!" Gee, thanks, George, wouldn't want to get my hopes up. While I pray for the Cardinal's peace and comfort during his illness and his passage to the next life, I really wonder what this guy is thinking.

Cue the awkward and embarrassing overhead announcement at my most recent visit to a Catholic church. There are not enough young men moving into the priesthood and the church is now engaged in a marketing campaign that replaces the personal homily of the priest in mass with the droning announcement over a loud-speaker, trying to sell the church and trying to get you to sell the church. 'Tell the young men in your life who you think would make good priests that they should consider this life.' The young men I think would make good priests I wouldn't steer in that direction if they were standing in the parking lot of a Catholic church facing the door. Why? Well, for one thing, why the simulated, boilerplate homily? Don't trust the priest to say something meaningful that connects with the congregation? Don't think the congregation is connected to the church's real teachings? Or afraid they are and that the church is no longer connected to Christ's message? Think that booming in some disembodied TED Talk will fix it? Hashtag: YOUSTILLDON'TGETIT

I want desperately to be focused on loving my family, being kind to my friends, helping my community, succeeding in my business, and becoming the person I'm striving to be. Most days I work hard at all of that. But some days I'm so distracted by stupidity I can't manage to stay on the priorities. And that makes me so mad I just want to scream: Shut UP!

Decaf? No, dammit. I'll take Venti with a shot.









Thursday, November 13, 2014

Service For a Boy

The real tragedy is that he'll never smell like aftershave. He'll never have a cold cheek when his mother kisses him, rough with stubble. He will never feel the tiny hand of his daughter in his.

That is pain, we find, because we are certain those are the things that bring joy, fulfillment. Without them there is dark, he is in the dark. So naturally, we hurt for him in his fade away from what we know to be good. We are fair in that we share our hurt, grief spent over his mother's loss, the family at large. We hurt for everyone's loss.

But really, what is lost is faith.

Where faith resides there is no dark, no drawing away from what is pleasing and joyful. There is only peace and acceptance, warm water to soothe, sun to smile. If you address the unknown with uncertainty you are right in your fear. Where there is a sure spirit there is relief.

So I sat at the back of the room, watching the simple service that preceded the final rest of a baby who has gone, inexplicably gone, and I tried desperately to be the sure spirit. Even later, when friends came to me with their doubts I repeated what I know to be true. There is a path lit only for the knowing, and one must not be among the knowing in order to trust the path. One must only know the path is there and that what is needed will be given without even asking.

Quiet. Then rising. The men of the community, tall and strong, hunched and frail, carried the boy as a sea might move, in waves and ripples across the room, each one straining to touch. Absent the mother and father who continue in pain of a different sort in a different place, these were the mothers and fathers of the moment. I was a mother. I am.

And I was screaming inside my head. "No!" I was screaming for that poor mother who will never return to norm; how could she? And for his father - my God, his father - and his younger brother and sister. I searched frantically for the way. I wanted to get that baby back and just squeeze him to myself and transfer my heat and make him live. I was wretched and wracked, in silence, not the sure spirit. A haze. And just as I was certain I might blare my foolish mistrust out loud, an older man approached me and took my hand and thanked me.

Sincere and crinkled, he was warm and kind and not at all perturbed. He was in the moment with me but not at all like me, not jittery or doubtful. He saw me and knew me and accepted me. Clean.

In his confidence I was at once moved to peace. My heart yawned and steadied to its normal beat.

I could tell you I imagined him and maybe I did. I won't know. I am hardly lost in the blind. I am still weak with questions and fears. Together with these, I know little that cannot be made surreal.

Still. Even when I seem lost to my own self, I find.

There is a path and what is needed will be given without even asking.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hear Me Out: Blueberries Are Not In Season. Deal With It.

A new article in Rolling Stone Magazine Rolling Stone. The $9B Witness tells you something you already know: banks lie. In fairness, it's not just banks. Banks lie about how much they can do for you, grocers lie about the quality of the food they sell you, politicians lie about the services they can afford to offer you. There's a good bit of lying going on.

You already know that.

Why? Why so many lies?

Because when you go to the grocery store you do not want to see a big sign that says

"Blueberries Are Not in Season. Please Enjoy a Kumquat!"

No grocer in his right mind would put up a sign like that. You came to get blueberries, so neither he nor anyone else wants to tell you you can't have them right now. The truth remains largely irrelevant in the exchange. Blueberries are not, in fact, in season. They'll be in season again in late July and you probably know that. But knowing the truth has become conveniently ignorable in light of the public's penchant for offering a lie and and the equally healthy hunger for consuming the lie. If blueberries are out on display, we're happy to take them, not caring one whit what chemicals and witchery got us off-season fruit.

"Yay! Blueberries, right now when I want them!"

The same has been true of the banker who should not offer you the loan or the politician who knows even as he campaigns on a message of truth and transparency that when he is elected to office he will be forced to lie or disappoint. They choose the lies and we choose to accept. They keep their jobs, we get to clap for phony progress, and our problems persist. Why? Because the banker thinks you won't remember to come back to him when you've saved enough to afford the house and the politician doesn't trust you to vote for him if he tells you you can't have what you want right now. They assume, rightly, that we only want what we want to hear, future be damned.

So the results are in: we're slow-witted morons with a disastrous affection for the now.

But let's not blame ourselves individually.We have cultivated a national impatience which is crippling us, suffocating our chances, killing us, and the remedy we've agreed upon by our inaction to correct it is to actively ignore it. That, after a few choice words on social media, of course, wherein we turn on one another and expend our steam with a cousin or neighbor rather than the true culprit. We don't have the patience to find the procedural solution that would actually get at the problem and solve it. We do vigorously comment on Facebook, though, with all the commitment of a Kleenex. Insert angry-smiley face here, tinted red to show how really mad we are! For 2.3 seconds until the next blinking headline dispatches us like nervous cats from leap to scatter.

And it's only getting worse.

Attention deficit is no longer a disorder. It's a way of life. Only 36% of eligible voters went to the polls in my home town, despite weeks of open voting for anyone who could get two blocks from home, the availability of absentee voting, and the twelve-hour voting window on election day. I'm quite certain more than 36% of us have an interest in how we are taxed or how badly our streets are paved, but we can't focus long enough to tie the thread between public service and public servant to know that our vote matters immensely.

Even in the mundane we are disturbed. We can't sit at a stoplight for the few seconds it'll take to move again without glancing at a smartphone or turning to a new radio station. We cannot endure the thirty minutes of boredom in the waiting room at the Jiffy Lube without watching news, listening to bad piped-in music, and flipping through a dated magazine all at once! How much time do we spend staring at a neon-bright video game, swiping, swiping, swiping? Just to be doing something because we can never be doing nothing. It used to be that fidgeting was the domain of the toddler. It's now the institutionalized norm among the suited and stately.

But what does that get us? Read the article linked above. We reap what we sow, one of many lessons we could learn from the farmer (not to be confused with the chemicalized farmer brought to us by the good folks at Monsanto) whose truth is patience and long-term sacrifice for future reward. Our national laze and indifference is poisonous to our country and constitutes a near-treasonous public acceptance of corruption, and as we continue to devour lie after lie for a short-term high we doom our children to the inevitable consequence.

We must, must, must - and can - do better.

So I am working to develop the patience necessary to both say and receive 'no' with grace and a view to the long-term. (I've also thought about this a lot and, slightly on, but slightly off, topic I think we all need to decide we'd rather not have cable than put up with Comcast's truly terrible customer service. Another rant for another day.)

I am challenged to say 'no' to myself and my children to see what comes of it. I am bent on setting a long-term goal with my family to see if we can all help one another earn and spend the patience necessary to achieve it. I am desperate to change the trajectory because I believe each bit of the progress we can and should make on the national level must begin with the individual effort of every patriot.

I encourage you to do the same. Buck up. Be patient. And have a kumquat, it's good for you.