Recently I read and fell in love with Nathan Englander’s new novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth. Mr. Englander’s collection of short stories, What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank was a finalist for the Pulitzer Award. It won’t surprise me a bit if his latest walks away with it.
Set in the Middle East in present day it captures the relationship of Prisoner Z and his guard. The story evolves from and around that relationship. It features spies and counter spies, Jewish mothers, Immortal war generals and of course, lovers. It’s the kind of book that makes words that try to describe the novel too trite or too weak. Suffice to say, read it. If it’s your cup of tea - read it. If it’s not your cup of tea - read it. It feels like an important book. A really, timely, important book.
Quite by accident I bumped into an old Psychology Today post which was centered around Nathan Englander and an interview he did with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. A reader had posted a comment a year ago that I suddenly just saw. Which led me back to the post. Which led me back to reading it and thinking - that was 2012 - this is 2017. The question is still relevant. The weight on my heart even heavier.
In no way do I mean to embarrass Mr. Englander by posting this memory but the words he shared in that interview are as heart-wrenching and moving to me today as they were then. As is his new novel.
In spite of the news that terrifying news from around the world that seems to pop up on my phone by the minute I lean into the words of Anne Frank as anointed as they ever were.
“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Anne Frank
All of it. The clean underwear and the dirty underwear. The bad underwear and the Calvin Klein favorite underwear. Last night we came home and he had gotten into the trash and looked like this (Kevin stand in because he now has more hair and his eyes are much prettier and amber which makes it harder to scold him). I had a thought for just a second - Kevin might get into the trash if you leave it there but then I was trying to help mama out the door to the football game with her purse, her secret bag, my purse, and so forth and that's just more commotion than a brain can manage. I left the trash. I came home to this. But this is nothing compared to the destruction of my underwear.
You would think if you are down to two pairs of underwear and there is a pattern that you would recognize it and not do this again but not so. My life seems to run at LUDICROUS SPEED. Yes, ludicrous speed! So when I suddenly need to lock rescue dog Kevin in my room because he can be whack with his little odd wire loose and there is twenty seven and half people in the living room and some of them are small children screaming and running around with sharp things part of my little brain says - you know - it'd would be a good idea to lock Kevin the rescue in your bedroom. So I run upstairs with him and do that. The part of my brain that says - You know, he has eaten ten pairs of your underwear so you might just want to close your closet or move that basket of clean clothes somewhere else. NO! That part does not speak at all as I am running back down the stairs. It kicks in when I go up to let Kevin out and all the wild little wolf pack are gone and he is standing on a mountain of rags that were previously underwear with all the important middle parts in tact.
I want to yell BAD DOG!!! Very BAD Dog! But Kevin the Rescue has heartworms and is going through treatment and supposed to be taking it easy and I don't want to give him a heart attack even though right now he is sitting in the middle of all the destroyed underwear like he is Jackson Pollock and has gone on some wild, artistic binge liberating me from all my contraints and is darn proud of it - so I say, Yes, of course, this is all my fault. I should have prepared better for this moment.
Which led to the GRANNY PANTY incident.
I had a doctors appointment to follow up with my real doctor because I had gone to the local clinic when a forty eight hour virus tried to kill me and take me out of this world by making me throw up my toes while at the same time make me feel that eight gorillas were playing ping pong with my body as the ball and I went to clinic and climbed up on the table and the nurse turned the light out while I curled up on the table. She said she was keeping it out of my eyes but I think she was trying to ease the moment the doctor walked in and saw me so he didn't scream. So he says - Oh, MY! And I grunt something. And, he says when is the last time you felt this bad? I say Sixth Grade because It wasn't hard to remember the last time you felt that bad. And he says you are very sick and I'll give you a shot so that you can keep from throwing up your toes and send you home. And oh, by the way - you have also caught Bronchitis from taking care of your Mama so I will give you some horse pills. Just see if you can keep those bad boys down. Then I fell off the table and left my car in the parking lot because sister got off work and came to get me because I couldn't drive home.
Then I went to follow up with my regular Doctor like I was supposed to and I was getting dressed and went to get UNDERWEAR but they were all rather artistic at that point and since I wasn't trying to go on some kind of radical match.com date I thought I'd just go downstairs and borrow some clean undies from my Mom so I say Hey Mama - Kevin ate my underwear and she says AGAIN? and I say yes, and I think she is trying to tell me, You should put up your underwear . . . when I grab an old pair of hers that is white and stretched out and come up to my arms pits. And Then I go to the doctor on my lunch hour so they can pat me on the head and send me home.
The doctor says, I see, when I tell her about the virus and the bronchitis and the coughing and she says now - take off your clothes -all but your underwear and get on the table. I try to tell her this is not important and she just acts like a doctor and leaves the room like I will do what she says. So I take off my clothes and put on the paper and climb up on the table while she talks in the hall to a nurse about another patient for a looongggg time which she doesn't normally do but I keep thinking - well, that person must be very sick and even though I am on my lunch hour and really in a hurry I will be patient so I sit on the table cross legged Indian style with the paper around me and I realize at that moment I am wearing white granny panties that come up to my armpits and bag around my drethers and that I want the doctor to not think I just don't care anymore that I haven't given up all hope of romance. But then she comes in with her scope and tells me to breath and breath some more and in and out breathing and I almost pass out so she says - Let's take a break. So I stop breathing. And then I breath some more and she tells me I have Pneumonia and she is giving me STRONGER HORSE PILLS. And because I find out that I have PNEUMONIA which my grandmother always said - then you will get the Pneumonia and die. No one in my grandmothers lifetime ever seemed to get the Pneumonia and survive I realize that I could die with my mother's granny panties on and it's all because I rescued Kevin and he eats all my underwear.
And I was late for work so I forgot to tell my doctor about this and I'm sure now she thinks I just don't care.
I get up very early on my better days. Preferably about five am. I like to have the quiet of the morning to simply be in the presence of the Divine to the best of my busy brain ability, to at least appreciate the simple moments as the night becomes dawn becoming day. A precious time of the morning. I wake up at that speed and always get creative work accomplished that otherwise is eaten up with the business of to-do lists if I rise as late as eight. Or even seven. To that end I woke just at dawn this morning. I made coffee. Had lit candles in my office and was headed to watch the light outside my window. Then Mama's bedroom door opens and her dog runs out. Ok, fine. Let Duncan out with plans of hustling back to bed. But then Mama comes out dressed like all - Top of the Morning to you!
My mother is not an early riser. This is a well known fact of life. We grew up knowing not to wake her and not to talk to her until she had her coffee because she could be ill in the morning in a mean spirited kind of way. Which is fine with me and sister because we don't want to talk in the morning either. I told Miss Top of the Morning who informed me she had been awake most of the night so she just decided that she was going to get up for awhile and then maybe go back to sleep that I had to go say my prayers. What the translation of this is in everyday language is - Don't talk to me. Don't think about talking to me. Don't make any noise. And don't even THINK ABOUT turning on that television. Then I go up to my office with the candles lit to be all saintly and stuff. Then I sit down to be all thankful for things and realize one of the most thankful things I have to be thankful for is that my Mama is alive and I can sit on the porch with her and have coffee and see the birds. So I get up and go back down stairs and say hey, Mama do you want to sit on the porch and see the birds? And she says Ok. So I make her coffee and go out to the porch.
She says she sure wishes she had a rocking chair on the porch. I tell her we need to get her one of those for the porch. She likes the camp rocking chair that her niece bought her except you can't walk around it. I told her we will take it to the football game if she wants to go. She sits in the chair. The rescue dog Kevin must say good morning which tangles the other dog on the leash. We untangle and sit down dividing dogs among us and look at the birds.
In four.two seconds Mama tells me there is a vine growing that needs to be cut out of a tree. I tell her it would be nice if we could just look at the trees and not start working on my to-do list yet this morning. She says ok. We look at the trees. I tell her how nice and quiet it is. She says yes, I like the quiet. But I kinda get the feeling she is sick of it. It must get a little too quiet while I am at work. I know she misses her corner and her house of fifty years and her neighbors.
Well, the trees are turning and in a few weeks it will look like the Smokies up here. It will be so pretty. She asks me if that is a tree down my hill that just fell over. I tell her yes. She asked me if azaleas grow up here and I tell her I just don't know for sure but I thought I saw some once. She says they sure would be pretty down there if someone could set some out. Of course they would have to put a bunch of big rocks down there to hold the dirt up so it didn't go over the cliff. Yes, I tell her. Maybe someone could do that. She asks me then if Rye grass will grow in the yard if some is thrown out. If there is anything out there for it to hang onto. I tell her there is dirt out there for it to hang onto. That rye grass can find purchase. She said it sure would look better to see some green. That rye grass is really green and she likes green. We happen to be looking out over acres and miles of green as far as the eye can see. She says she likes the light green of rye grass. We sit for a minute looking at all the green that is not rye grass green.
Mama asks me if I got my birthday card from Cousin Deb. I tell her I did not and ask her if she sent it to the house or the po. She says the house. Then she says she does not trust that mailbox. That my birthday card should have come last week. I tell her I just do not know. Then she tells me she has not gotten her bill from Dillards and she should have and I need to call and make sure they have the new address. I tell her it is not seven o'clock and maybe we should just look at the birds and not start on my to-do list. She says ok.
Then the dogs get jealous and cause a problem and need to be petted. And we talk about old dogs and missing Titan and she talks about her little dog that loved her and got ran over and then she is very sad about that. This happened when we were teen-agers. I told her we should just be thankful we have had some really good dogs. She said yes, including my german shepherd that got hit by car when I was a kid and that was just tragic and begins to recount his last hour. I tell her she has now gone from my to-do list to dead dogs. She laughs a little bit and says she will just think of something nice to talk about. We try to go back to the birds.
A hummingbird shows up and that is a happy thing because we thought they were all gone and the feeders had run dry and I thought I had sent them to their doom by running out of sugar when they needed it most. But I found a little and put feeders out full and so at least the stragglers might survive. We identified a blue bird and a dove and heard a crow. It was peaceful for a minute and then Mama said she sure was worried about North Korea. I said, yes everyone is but if he is crazy and sends a missile we will blow up all of North Korea and it will be tragic so let's not talk about it for just a little bit. She said she just wanted to call someone and ask them if they remembered what MacArthur said.
It was quiet for just a minute. Then Mama said, I just want to say one thing about Hitler.
And just like that I decided it was time to go to work.
Wishing you peace this morning in your neck of the woods.
(*This blog was picked up by Psychology Today and chosen as one of their essential reads. You can catch it here.)
I came into the world in the month of September. The great time of hurricanes. My birthday is only a few days away and Florida is heavy on my mind. Weighted on my heart. Saltwater runs through my veins and as I write this looking over this hill from Tennessee I can see those waves crashing, hear the pounding of the Gulf growing angrier by the minute, the slash and snap of the Palms wild from the wind. Along with the rest of the nation my eyes are now turned to the devastation that Irma has left in the Islands and fearing what is yet to come.
I’ve ridden out more tropical storms than I can remember. For about fifteen solid years I’ve made Tennessee my home but right now it’s in my blood to stock up on batteries, water, canned food. To Hunker down and hope.Had our little brick house turned into Noah's Ark full of cousins and animals and family year after year. My mother managed a restaurant right on the beach where I worked every summer. People sat at tables by the water and watched the moonlight on the waves as they rolled up on the shore. Every year we saw that it was bordered up and prayed for the best through the hurricanes. Every single year. A part of life.
I witnessed the destruction first hand after Hurricane Camille - a raging category five - hit the coast of Mississippi on the way to see my Daddy at Ft. Polk right afterwards. My mother crept the car by a warship that had been tossed onto land and into someones yard like a toy boat. The destruction was eerie. It was like driving through a graveyard at the close of day.
Hurricane Opal was downgraded to a three before it hit but the storm surge of Opal came in at high tide and carved molehills out of the backside of condos. From the front they looked perfectly fine but when you walked around to the back of the building there actually was no building there. The storm surge is a deadly thing.
The first time I actually moved away from Northwest Florida was to transfer with my company to south Florida. A world away. The palm trees were taller than the buildings from my hometown. The scent on the air intoxicatingly exotic. The night blooming jasmine, the orchids. I was 21 and didn’t know what to expect. North Florida is a land of old oaks, beautiful beaches, slow talkers, and porch rockers. Pine trees. Ft. Lauderdale was fast. It became home. I gave birth to a baby boy there in Hollywood just north of Miami where I had friends.
I evacuated one time when it looked like a ‘cane was coming in fast and furious and might land as a strong four and my daddy wanted me to get out. Me and sister packed up two cars with two little boys, two dogs, four puppies, one cat, and all the family photos I could carry. My brakes went out as I skirted storms that sent crashing limbs into the roads. Tornadoes chased us all the way to my Aunt Kate’s door up in Georgia. It was days upon days before we could get back (with new brakes), the National Guard still in charge, the power still out.
The world is full of refugees. It’s a clamoring world problem but sometimes a distant drum from our side of the pond. Until Katrina sent refugees scattering everywhere trying to find a toehold to hang onto. Until Harvey just hit and took our breath away. After the big show, when all the tv crews have moved on, the recovery begins. Recovery is slow. Harvey’s price tag might be close to 190 billion. But crunching the numbers says nothing about the amount of lives that will have to be rebuilt. And here’s Irma with Jose right on her tail and barreling up the same path. This time - we are the refugees.
Millions have evacuated. Millions. I can’t even fathom that number on the move in this country trying to avoid disaster, trying to save their loved ones. That’s a lot of tired, scared, thirsty, hungry people. I saw on the news where a city in another state opened a shelter and advertised for Floridians to keep coming north, they have arms open. I was watching the news from Tennessee but I was watching it as a Floridian. Worrying about family and friends there in different counties. Watching the path of the storms twists and turns. Then I realized, I’m not the only one watching. That the entire nation is watching.
Should you be a praying kind of person, now would be a good time to give a pause, to say hello to God for a good cause. For the children losing homes, for the parents clinging to their children, for the first responders everywhere and those that are standing at the ready to work to rebuild what is about to be destroyed and can’t be held back. For order, peace, provision.
Frank Sundram posted on Facebook a reminder from the old movie Starman. When the alien is asked why he wanted to come to Earth he replied, “Unlike the rest of the Universe, the people of Earth are at their best when things are at their worst.”
With a storm that will be felt across the entire state of Florida barreling its way toward us I see the news reporting that campgrounds, hotels, shelters, cities are all opening their gates to evacuees, I cling to that truth. In the survival against what might be the worst to come that we may prove in a million ways be our very best.
Pennies and prayers. They both count more than you know. Give what you can, where you can from the heart of who you are.
Praying for your peace in the middle of all of life’s storms within and without.
What does one do when the headlines scream of nuclear war? I am tired of thinking about this. Yet, I live there when the news screams that the crazy man is saying basically he has his finger on the button. I reminiscence about the days of yore when the Russians were the problem because in the midst of the cold war there was always the feeling that the Russians weren't stupid. That they realized what we were talking about was destruction of the human race.
The last thing I did last night was read the headlines on Korea and the nuclear bombs. The first thing I did this morning was to reach for my phone and see what the status was on the crazy meteor. I try not to do this first thing but today was an exception.
Now a crazy baby-man rules North Korea. Crazy baby men in power anywhere are really not a good idea. Never have been. Never will be. But I can only hope that North Korea's person realizes that his actions could wipe out every living soul in his country. Concerns are if he is crazy enough he'll die laughing.
I went from headlines to facebook to check the status of my friends. Then followed a link from someones page that promised to test my level of education. I decided this was great stress relief so I answered a thousand and two questions about things from literature to mathematics to historical wars. It responded that I had the equivalent of a PHD. So, I took another test that was completely different but also promised to test my educational fortitude. It also reported I had a PHD. I think Vanderbilt would argue that point. Because I do not. However, I do think it shows that I read and that I would be a great partner for a brewhouse trivia night. Once I had established the level of my education I returned to - what does one do on the last day of their life. The answers came easy.
Keep it simple because as Cambell's soup used to sing - Simple pleasures are the best.
I went to the park with the little Wolf Pack. Kelcee was kind enough to corral them to meet me and Brylee made bologna sandwiches. I pushed the boys in the swings, rode them piggy back while Damon suggested maybe I should run and I told him no, I should not. We ate watermelon like little piglets with juice running down our faces. The kids ran and played and climbed the slides. The day was glorious. The sun was shining, the temps cooling, the grass as green as grass could ever be. I promised if they would go home and take a nap that I would go home and take a nap and come to watch a movie later.
I went to the pharmacy for Mom and ran errands at Walmart. Standing in line I turned to a stranger and asked how she was doing? She said fine and asked how I was. I told her I was tired and just wanted to go home and get out of this line and leave this store. Then she laughed and said her too. We are so much the same - all of us.
I brought Mom's medicine and gave it to her. Took time to scratch Kevin the Rescue's tummy with his four paws in the air and say, You are a good dog (even though sometimes he is not.) I watched the shifting light coming through the leaves of the trees and made a cup of tea. Then I read a good book. Wintering, by Peter Geye. I took a nap that felt like I had been asleep for centuries but it was only forty minutes which I counted well spent because even on the last day of life the luxury of a nap and being more fully arrive for the rest of the evening is priceless.
I lit a candle and poured a Guinness in my new Tenx9 storytelling glass whose slogan professes that it is "in the shelter of each other the people live". If the world should last long enough and I desire to tattoo something long with words on my body this may be the thing.
I re-lit Mom's wishing tree that had caught on fire because someone (might have been me) accidentally put a candle to close to it so she said it was damaged. I told her that just gave it character and that I'd take it. Today I am making a wish to God for the safety of the world.
I thought about something funny me and cousin Deb did and I called her to tell her, Remember when? and laugh again. Thought of all of my friends and all of our laughter over the years that has been the very, best music of all.
I am going downstairs now to eat whatever Mom has cooked and I will act like it was the best thing of my life and the very thing that I would order if it were my last meal. Because time could be shorter than I hope. I'm going to ask her if she would like to sit on the porch and watch the hummingbirds until the sun sets.
Then I am going over to watch a movie with the wolf pack and make popcorn. I will put my arms around them while I hold one on my lap as they take turns for that cherished spot. The same lap that I have worried carried too many pounds I am today telling myself it is just the right size.
And, I am thinking of you as you read this. Of how we are all in this together. In the movies this is when the aliens show up and save us from our own stupidity. Or, Jesus comes back.
Should this be the finality of days for me in any way I will die being thankful for the time I've had, for the people I've had the opportunity to love, and for being aware enough for a change to capture it in breaths and moments of today.
Tomorrow, if we should still be here, I plan to get up and look at the world though these same eyes because its the only way for me to truly be alive.
Blessings to all. Keep it real out there.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.