Wisdom of the Dead

skeletonOctober has been frightening this year. Not because of skeletons guarding doorways, ghosts in the trees, or dismembered body parts sticking out of yards. What’s frightening are the toxic fumes rising from the  cauldron of our election stew.

What would our predecessors think about how we are treating each other, the vitriol and baseness in these election-based exchanges in this civilized twenty-first century? I see banks of the dead, watching, pale and silent. Some I know–my parents are standing in the front–and many I don’t.

This audience of the dead is in agreement. While we the living are so not. They can’t sweat small stuff anymore, or even big stuff. They now understand division better than any of us, divided from earthly companionship, love, and joy.  Yes, They are divided from anger, pain and heartbreak, too, but what they no doubt remember most is harmony, synchronicity, and consideration.

Because if there is a heaven on earth, that’s where it lies.

I wish these dead could speak to us. In their later years, my parents heard the siren call of “the system is rigged.”  They felt that those in power, the “new world order,” were power hungry and evil, out to ruin the rest of us. With the distance of years, I see my parents having this reaction to counter an overwhelming loss of control, of their lives and their bodies. That we are in control is an illusion in the first place, I think, but as we get older, the veil between this illusion and reality gets much thinner. Reality can be hard.

“The system is rigged” resonates as a reaction to humans feeling “I can’t get what I want.” None of us  get exactly what we want, even though we may work diligently toward a particular goal for years. The system is designed that humans will always have challenges, surprises, and shocks; if we are not growing, we are dying. No wonder people build up resistance, fear, and anger to a Sisyphusian nature of existence, rolling a boulder uphill only to see it roll down again. When too much seems out of control, we want someone to blame. Must be the people in charge which means–hey, it’s the  government.

Is this the grown-up version of blaming your parents for your problems? Blame the government, or the wealthy employers, or really both, since they are the “system.” And when our culture broadcasts this on a large scale, what is the effect on the upcoming generations? The system is rigged! Why work or try to get ahead? Overthrow the current system!

The dead groan in unison. Has history not yet convinced us as a species that democracy, for all its difficulties, is one of the better systems there is? Perhaps the best? No, revolution is not the answer. Unless that revolution means taking responsibility, all of us, for the divisive poisonous stew we are swimming in. Human existence, and politics, is a see-saw, a balancing scale; sometimes events tip in favor of you and your beliefs, sometimes the tip is in my favor. What our elders, and those who have gone before would tell us on Halloween, when the veil between the dead and the living is at it’s thinnest of the year, is this: “Grow up. Stop throwing tantrums and trying to get your way. No one consistently gets their way, ever. The human system is rigged to make sure of that. Start sharing toys and figuring out how to play nice.”

Shame on us for acting so selfishly and childishly. That’s what the dead would say. But they can’t talk anymore. They only listen. What wisdom they could offer from the other side of the divide. Divisiveness is hell, they’d say, but hearing each other while you still can, then leaning in toward harmony, not discord, is the closest thing to heaven–on earth.

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The Magic of Buried Banana Peels

azaleasWhy didn’t I stop my elderly and disheveled mother from scooting out to the rose bushes flanking our front door to bury the breakfast banana peels? The short answer would be: she’s my mother. The longer answer would be: she so believed those banana peels would help my roses, she had me half-convinced, too. That was how we rolled, for decades. So firm were her beliefs about any number of  VERY outside of the box things, that I couldn’t unequivocally decide she was wrong.

So I didn’t stop her from rooting around under the rose bushes, even though I was uncomfortable with the activity for a number of reasons.  Foremost was the fact that this woman who was still climbing trees to prune them when she was in her sixties, and showing off her can-can kick in her seventies, was now in her late eighties, post a few strokes and the passing of my father.  She was frail, unsteady on her feet, and had retreated deep inside herself, courtesy of depression and beginning dementia. Second was the fact I wasn’t super supportive of burying any of our garbage a few feet from the front door, especially in daylight, and I wasn’t too sure my neighbors would be, either. And third, while I was open to the fact that the peels might help the roses, I was also concerned that rooting around the rose roots in the dirt among the few remaining strawberry plants that were supposed to be ground cover could be more harmful than helpful to that little front walk ecosystem.

I also didn’t stop her because my mother loved to garden; one of the only joys she had left. It didn’t bring a smile to her face; nothing did at that point. But fussing over plants was about the only place where present-day challenges would fade, and she would lose herself out in my yard, burying banana peels or pulling weeds, or in the house, walking around grooming my houseplants. Gardening was a comfort, one she’d enjoyed as long as I could remember. If I made her come in the house, or stopped her from taking her tipsy weak self up the stairs to complete her houseplant routine, what was a saving her for? If she died gardening, I knew she’d be happy.

My mother has not been in my garden for a number of years, or any garden for that matter, except perhaps a great garden in the sky. If we have any say in what our heaven is, my mother is gardening. My indoor and outdoor plants now survive despite the care, or lack thereof, that I and my husband can give them. Even with her crazy schemes, my mother was a better influence on any garden than I probably will ever be, even with a horticulture degree as one of my credits.

But I did inherit my mother’s curiosity about plants and what makes them grow. So last week, years after those banana peels were laid to rest under my roses, as I researched the answer to the garden legend that peonies need ants to bloom (they don’t), I stumbled upon banana peels under the rose bushes. Roses supposedly like buried banana peels because they increase soil potassium. However, the soil microorganisms breaking down those banana peels have to extract nitrogen from the soil to complete their job, so the soil can end up low in nitrogen along the way, and without even much potassium to show for it. A net negative. Composting the banana peels first is the way to go, followed by spreading compost around the roses.

I may have also inherited impatience from my mother. Who wants to wait for months down the road for the banana peels to be composted, after all that monotonous effort of liming and turning?  Burying banana peels to make your roses bloom is magical, a fairy tale we want to be true. Practical is important, but magic is imperative.

Note to son: the day I shuffle my silver-haired self out to scatter used coffee grounds under the azaleas in your yard, let me be! I’m doing just fine.

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A Walk in the Park

sleepyhollowpathToday, March 30, is national Take a Walk in the Park Day.

We’d no doubt be better off if this wasn’t an activity that required a national remembrance. I’ve lived almost exclusively on the East Coast and yes, we need reminders to “take a walk in the park.” To “smell the roses.” We are a production-driven culture.

Our son was born and spent his formative early years in western Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh, almost a stone’s throw from the Ohio border. I’m glad he did. Our friends there knew to take walks in the parks, smell the roses, enjoy time with family and friends. Pittsburgh natives consider themselves part of the East Coast. This fascinated me, because in addition to being geographical inaccurate, Pittsburgh does not feel like the East Coast to me; this was one of the biggest, and appreciated, differences.

But back to the East Coast, Massachusetts to be specific, this past weekend. Having enjoyed a family get-together Saturday evening, my husband and I set out on a sunny Easter afternoon to take a walk in the park. Where we live, trails and woods and open space are abundant. We are fortunate to have an incredible national park with miles of trails a few minutes from our home. This was my envisioned destination, but we got to talking, and drove by the turn to the closest entrance to the park. Minutes later, we were driving by picturesque Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a historic landmark that offers the resting places of Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, for starters. I suggested we park, and walk there. This wasn’t as strange an idea as it might sound.

When I was younger, cemeteries were to be avoided. Creepy places with possible phenomenon that we didn’t understand and that could be very dangerous. Most of us have formed our ideas of what happens in cemeteries from horror movies. But upon moving to New England, I discovered beautiful cemeteries with woods and trails that connect the cemetery “parks” to the greater network of trails. Some of our dog-parent friends even chose cemeteries as their first destination to exercise with their canine companions off-leash, undisturbed on quiet paths under the trees. With our dog by my side–or not, when she happily raced and cavorted across the lawns–I began to discover the enfolding allure offered by these picturesque cemeteries, laid out along winding paths on landscaped grounds guarded by large tracts populated by wise old trees. A peaceful oasis where we lay our loved ones to rest.

Was it the East Coast in me? Before we’d walked very far, my mind wandered back to a concrete, brass-tacks issue. I observed that we had made no purchase or reservation for a plot of land where we were to be buried. Where did my husband want to be buried?

sleepyhollowAnd just like that, on that sunny Easter afternoon, a day traditionally to rejoice in resurrection and life, I unintentionally disturbed the peace by cracking open the lid on the many unsettling aspects of death. The next ten minutes covered the claustrophobia of being put in a box and buried, the burning hell horror of going up in flames even though ashes were probably preferable to a rotting body, and where did the ashes go then? For all of us who have close loved-ones who have passed away, we’ve come face-to-face with the challenges of plotting this after-death chapter. The exercise can be quite rough. My parents never made any decisions. Their children are still trying to.

And then, my husband and I tabled the discussion for another day, or year, or decade. On what day and date will we have needed to decide? That is, of course, the biggest uncertainty.

And a most convincing reason to take a walk in the park. Often.

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secretslogoIs revenge truly a dish best served cold?

I was on board when the Mike Kelley series Revenge debuted on ABC. Watching did indeed feel like a guilty pleasure for I do not condone revenge, and yet watching justice play out on this show was so incredibly satisfying. Until the ramifications rippled wider and wider, and the characters’ responses got crazier and crazier, and I tuned out. I wasn’t the only one; the show ended after four seasons. No question, revenge gets old.

I generally let life play out, believing what goes around really does come around and I don’t need to get in the middle and micromanage. That said, I do sometimes feel a need to push back to maintain or regain balance, to keep a person or a situation from going too far outside what I’ve judged to be an appropriate box. I’m surmising we all have this initial response, to “push back” or, to take it further, retaliate when we feel we have been wronged, mistreated, ignored, or injured.  Whether we chose to act on this instinct, and how is where the variety comes in!

So where did the panel stand on revenge?

B: Enticing though it may be, I think revenge is a dish better not served at all.

D: No (not best served cold). Hit ’em while it’s hot.

P: I can’t remember plotting revenge against anyone. Revenge is not something I think about.

R: Doesn’t matter when as long as it goes to the heart.

What a great job interview question! Wouldn’t you like to know the predilections of those you work with?
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Seven Plates at the Table

denisesevenplates      When a fellow writing group member publishes a book, we don’t necessarily snatch it right up so we can read it because we basically have “read” it, some sections numerous times. And yet…we still like to see the final product, after the edits. So I leisurely started Seven Plates at the Table by Denise Waldron (also one of my Secrets of the Universe panel members) this past weekend, and ended up reading to the end before the weekend was over! This final product is a winner.

Denise creates characters we recognize instantly. And because they feel like family, we want to know what happens from the first page. We’re worried that not-good things are coming for these basically good people. Greta, the grandmother wants Thanksgiving, and every other holiday, to play out like an animated Norman Rockwell illustration. George, her husband, prefers his wife happy so he can do what he does which is take the occasional electrical job and enjoy his semi-retirement. Their children Emily and Alan can’t figure out how they could be brother and sister since they are so different. Emily’s bought an old farm cottage and is raising goats, while Alan, a stressed-out financial adviser clawing up the ladder of success, lives in a big beautiful house with his perfectly-groomed fundraiser wife Isabel and their well-managed five-year-old son Henry.But George is hiding something. And so is Alan, something his wife couldn’t even imagine. It’s Carl, Emily’s new boyfriend, who begins to shake up the status quo. As facades start to crumble, everyone wants to protect Henry.

This is a quietly seductive book about the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell others, and the irreparable damage that can follow. Seven Plates at the Table is Denise Waldron’s second book, and she just gets better as she goes. I can’t wait to read her next book…

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Necco and I Celebrate Anniversaries all about Love

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This year Necco, the New England Confectionery Company, is celebrating the 150th anniversary of their pastel candy conversation hearts by asking people to share “stories of sharing, love, friendship and words from the heart.”

Today I’m celebrating the first day of my newest romance, I’m Sure, sharing this story about friendship and love, and words from a conversation heart. Pond designer Megan is not sure she can trust a man again, and Jason, a firefighter, is the poster boy for unpredictable. Is St. Valentine powerful enough to bring these two together?

Watch for a special appearance by a lavender conversation heart with pink letters spelling out I’m Sure.  But neither Jason or Megan are so sure in the beginning. Find out how a candy heart brings these two together in time for Valentine’s Day!  On sale today at:

http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=6631

 

 

 

 

 

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Tipping the Balance to Radical Security

When I wanted to close out 2015 with visions of sugar plums in my head, I found images of radical terrorism. Not comfort and joy. Fear and violence.
A world in frightening imbalance.
My maternal line is full of scientists. I love magic, but I am fascinated by science. Science is magic. The natural world is embedded with options for balancing. Too acidic. Add any number of substances to create an alkalinity. Dehydrated? Add water. Too cold? Flint and steel plus force equals fire and warmth.
Radical terrorism evolves in individuals who feel disenfranchised. A person who feels deprived of power, rights, and privileges. A person who feels unconnected and unimportant.
How do we counter balance radical terrorism in 2016?
How about radical security? I’m not referring to more guns and walls, video monitoring and prohibitions. That path appears to be a slippery slope that at any moment can increase our terror, not abet it. As children, we feel secure when there is consistence structure in our lives and someone who is present and caring. As adults, we are not so different. Perhaps there is much we can do to counter balance radical terrorism.
Start by rerooting ourselves, reviving ourselves, reminding ourselves, by experiencing our literal scientific earth. The structure of our natural world is consistent. There is order. The blooming of a flower, the freezing of a puddle, the changing of the seasons, a bee hive, the mating of animals in heat, the hatching of an egg. We ground ourselves in consistencies, sureties. At the heart of it all, Earth is steady.
Then we can start connecting to each other, by being there and caring. Radically. Not extremely. Extreme action is rarely sustainable over time. And people are likely to think us unhinged. Radical defined as anything that is personally radical. Moving beyond what we’ve been doing to date. Each of us will have our own radical, and it’s time to go there. Set a date and start radical security actions.
Forgive your sibling, parent, child for whatever has kept you from talking; your work colleague for stealing that lead, that idea, that spotlight; your partner for not being everything you fantasized in a partner; yourself for being less than. Speak kind words that pop up inside, telling your partner “I love you”; acknowledging a rival at work for a job well done; telling yourself you’re okay. Contribute something positive to your community by reaching out to that neighbor from another country, volunteering for a town or school committee and listening to other viewpoints, teaching your children about the beauty of other cultures, supporting the inclusionary activities of your human resource department at work, running for political office.
We each have the power to start tipping the balance. Great change always comes from a simple small change that expands and expands and expands…

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Crazy Happy Hearts

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I’m weeding one of my garden beds, and for the first time in four years, I see little strawberry plants under the weeping Japanese cherry. I thought we’d lost them for good after an energetic spring weeder in the family identified the little strawberry plants as weeds. Seeing these little green plants thriving in late August, as the other garden plants and bushes have reached their peak and started the downhill journey to winter dormancy, warms my heart.

Opportunity only knocks once. He who hesitates is lost. Strike while the iron is hot. Sayings to increase stress for sure. The world moves fast enough. To imagine that we only go by everything once and if we miss is, that’s it, that’s a nearly debilitating concept for me. And not true, I’ve decided.

The tide must be taken when it comes. This is more like it. Because the tide will always come back. Every day, every month, every year. The important things in life, like opportunity, and tides, and strawberry plants, come around again, and again. Working the seasons in the garden is always a joyful calming reminder of the returning nature of life, along with its consistent beauty, strength, and natural order.

I believe there is a returning nature of love, too, in all its guises.  Love can come around again and again. So that’s what I write about, the things that I believe could happen; the things I want to believe do happen. Like when a single Manhattan book editor and widowed mariner ignite a decades-old high school attraction at the Jersey Shore. That’s the premise for my newest release, out this month: Crazy Happy Hearts. Susan’s and Kenny’s story is a reunion story.

Opportunity doesn’t only knock once. We really do get second chances.

Crazy Happy Hearts by Beverly Breton is available at http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=5758. and also available on Amazon and other on-line stores.
To discover more titles, and read excerpts and reviews, go to www.beverlybreton.com    

 

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Touching

Portland, ME – Soakology, a place of retreat and massage. I went with some friends a while back, as a kind of joint birthday present. It’s not everyone’s idea of a gift – some folks don’t like their feet to be touched, or, to have a body massage in state of near nakedness. Me, I’m not one of them – I’m a big fan of massage, and so are my sons.  As we soaked and relaxed, one of my single women friends mentioned that something she missed in a close relationship was touch. In our society, with the unspoken rules of personal space, touch is a “touchy” subject, the when and why and how. I’m certain it has to do with so many folks’ infatuation with their pets, the permissible touching, petting, cuddling and stroking. Human touch, at its best, is art and medicine. At its worst, soul-destroying.

My family background was not especially warm and physical. However, as one of six children close in age, we were thrown together in bedrooms, church pews, and the back of the car – “squeezed in”. Really, I think it was college and California that opened the door for me to the pleasure and the power of touch. Acting in scenes, we had the reason and opportunity to touch, embrace, slap or kiss others, even relative strangers. Off stage, theater types tended to be fairly open and expressive, shall we say. Giving and receiving massages, often in a line. Hot tubs under the stars, often naked. Which, I learned, did not imply that sex was to follow, necessarily. And I learned there the language of touch, how to communicate what was acceptable to me, and what was not.

At Soakology, I asked the woman massaging my feet what had led her to that profession. Strong hands, she said, and a kind of gift that was pointed out to her by someone in alternative healing, an acupuncturist. Besides the retreat massage, the young woman had another vocation, pediatric therapeutic massage. It was for helping young people to heal after injury, but primarily it was to help children of abuse or neglect re-learn how touch others and be touched. For them, touch was a weapon, a source of pain and domination, although, even at its most destructive, it was about human contact. Therapy was permission-based, and proceeded slowly, with games and exercises. Touch rehab.

Touch is communication at the most basic level, and, the masseuse told me, babies without live, physical contact will die after 7 days, even if otherwise fed and sheltered. What she said brought to mind a movie, Lars and the Real Girl. In the movie, Lars is unable to make physical contact with others because of an early trauma – his mother’s death in giving him birth and his father’s subsequent withdrawal. The older brother does not know how to help, but Lars, intuitively, comes up with a solution – an anatomically correct blow-up doll that he deems his girlfriend. I won’t give away the conclusion, just that I was moved to tears, not really knowing why, realizing later, it was the profound loss of touch and its fearful connotation that hurt Lars, not lack of love.

My husband has learned that a sure form of comfort and happiness to me is a foot rub. My sons have been the recipients of many a foot, back and shoulder rub from me, so it is not foreign or “loaded” to them, but a gesture of love and care, which hopefully they will share with others. My son’s pre-school teacher told me this story: one day, she had gotten bad news of some kind while still in the classroom, and had taken a seat to compose herself. The children could see she was upset. My son went up to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. Did she want a back rub, he asked. That might make her feel better.

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The Lost World of My Youth

One of the series I’ve been following lately is “Call the Midwife”, one of those wonderful, well-crafted British productions that recreate another time – in this case, the late 1950’s.  The story takes place in Poplar, a poor section of London, and the main characters are mid-wife nurses and nuns — somewhat dated roles, by definition. As much as I enjoy the program, the social conditions, and the conditions of day to day life, as depicted in the series, have shocked me on occasion.  And shocked me into realizing that these were the years when I was born and brought up.  How distant and far away they seem, even primitive. Like a different world, almost. 

 One of the episodes takes place in 1958 – the year of my birth, only 13 years after the end of WWII.  For the characters in the show, not many years have passed since the Blitz, and all the trauma of war, including the families who lost husbands and fathers, and old soldiers who fade away with little reward for their service There is an epidemic of TB in the area, and one of the nuns is sent away to the sanatorium to recover. “Pregnant out of wedlock” is cause for firing of a single woman from the typing pool.  A married woman with 8 children tries unsuccessfully to abort herself, and then almost dies of a botched illegal abortion. The elderly and mentally ill must cope as best they can, and with the help of the fragile networks of relationships that support them.  Women at risk of abuse have almost no recourse; nor are the nuns and midwives able to offer much help.

 Yet, in 1958, there are signs of hope and progress. TV is a novelty, and a motor scooter is a thrill to the women who ply their trade mostly by bicycle.  A couple of the more adventurous don pants, after Princess Margaret has been spotted wearing them.  For me, in rural Connecticut, it wasn’t until a few years later, in the early sixties, that we girls wore pants to school, instead of skirts and tights, on winter days.  The big excitement for the nuns and nurse midwives in Poplar is the advent of “air and gas” to relax women in labor, and the arrival of the X-ray machine to detect TB before it spreads.  They are just beginning to instruct on the use of prophylactics (rubbers), although birth control of any kind is not covered by national health. These particular women, the nuns and nurse mid-wives, are in charge of themselves, and seen as true caretakers and authorities by the assisting doctor and by the hundreds of residents who use their services.  

 Mainly, I think to myself – what a revolution; what a relief to live in these present days. All the greater opportunities and conveniences that we enjoy, although not necessarily such greater protections.  Creature that I am, with the degree of independence I experienced as a young woman, I could not go back to that time.  However, I can see that some things have been lost, and greatest, perhaps, is the degree of connection and interdependence, the greater intimacy of lives shared.  The narrator of the story, voiced by Vanessa Redgrave, celebrates the joys and victories, the respect and acknowledgement that she and the others receive, as well of course, the tragedies they witness – with such a clear sense of need and purpose at the most sacred and vulnerable times. 

 Most of the time, I’m thrilled and awed by how certain fundamental things have changed, and how quickly – technology, health care, women’s rights. TV and movies on demand and Iphones are what we longed for, and they are here. Yet, I feel a certain comfort in the remaining big yellow school busses, pop-up toasters, and the inches and feet of my youth. Because 1958 – the year of my birth – is now the distant past – another time – history.

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