Tuesday, August 8, 2017

... and then there is one

John and I are sitting on the couch listening to music, talking and generally enjoying the soft breeze through the screen door.  It’s June 1971.  I heard someone knocking on the door and got up to find a woman with my cat, Rover, in her arms.  “Is this your cat?”

Just the week before we were living in a duplex in Inglewood.  It was a small one bedroom near Inglewood Avenue and Lennox Boulevard.   It was directly under the LAX flight pattern.  I could almost see the people in the windows of the planes.  I had enough.  John left for work and I opened the Daily Breeze to find a place to live far from the sounds of jet engines and the smell of fuel.  That night he came home and witnessed me packing. “What are you doing?”  He looked confused. We had only been married six months and he obviously misread what he saw.  I announced we were moving to Torrance.  “Torrance!  Why there?”  John was less than happy but followed my lead, relieved that he was coming too.  We moved into a small two bedroom house with two houses, side by side in the backyard.  We laughed about this years later and always said it was the best decision we could have made.

The woman introduced herself, “Hi, my name is Leslie.  I live behind you in one of the houses.  Your cat came over to my house.  She’s really friendly”.  That is how I met Leslie forty-six years ago.  A few months later Judy moved into the other back house and now we were three.  Judy died in 2008 (the link to that blog post can be found by clicking on "Judy".  And we have been two since then.

Leslie married Dennis a short time later.  The marriage was volatile and lasted only five years.  Judy was living with her boyfriend; a situation that was crazy and short lived also.  We were all broke and many nights scrapped up enough money to buy food for a communal dinner, we picked vegetables from our common garden, and always carried a tab at Bennies, our neighborhood market.  On warm nights we brought Leslie’s television out onto the porch and watched it while sitting on lawn chairs.

Neither Leslie or I worked.  Judy, always employed, was the more responsible one.  We spent many days playing cards, riding bikes and just hanging out in the yard.  It was a very happy and carefree time in our lives.

I suppose many couples have the same happy memories of those first years together.  I remember my mother reminiscing about the days when she and my dad first married and their struggle while he was going through college.  They were broke, living in a Quonset Hut in Tucson, but mom described it as their happiest days. 

When I had my first son, Jay, he was premature.  I brought him home at a couple months old.  He was small and fragile.  We had to wake him every two hours to eat and it would take him an hour to finish the 2 ounces in his bottle.  We were exhausted.  We set the alarm and put it in the kitchen so we had to get up.  Many nights Leslie would come in through the back door before the alarm would go off and feed him, then reset the alarm for us.  He was so tiny there were no clothes in the stores for him.  Leslie retrieved her crochet needles and made sure he had clothes that fit him.

Tonight I did a search through my emails to read her words.  I read her funny stories which reminded me of her crazy sense of humor.  I read about the pride she had in her daughter.  I read about her love for her new son-in-law.  
I read through our plans to meet at my cabin and all the food she and her husband, Ron, would be bringing.  Could she bring her 160 pound Rottwieler? Yes of course Leslie.  There were many emails that started with “I just thought of you today when” and then a situation was described.  These email threads demonstrated the commitment to a very old friendship.  In 2015, I wrote a short email to her complaining about how people were treating Muslims.  I found it unfair and wondered how so many people could be misguided.  She was the friend who had never lost her 60’s values, her sense of inclusion, and my connection.  She wrote back, “What you envision you create.  Hold a better vision.  That’s our job.  To create a better place.“  That short reply was exactly what I needed to hear.  True to this philosophy was her ability to take care of others in need.  When a young girl needed a home, Jenny was adopted and is family.

Over the years there were camping trips, a trip to Washington to visit her brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Ann and stays at my cabin in the mountains.


When I returned from two years abroad in the Peace Corps, the world I left remained, but I changed.  During those years, I reentered my roots and remembered what was important.  I had two years to reflect on what I had become.  Working in a corporate environment, taking care of my family, and masking my identity had taken a toll on my soul.  When I returned I felt I didn’t fit into my old life anymore….but there was Leslie.  My old friend, who got me, who understood the values that we lived and are central to being.

Leslie and I lived in far different worlds but managed to stay connected on a spiritual level.  I often didn’t understand her world and she often didn’t understand mine.  But what we did have was basic values that created a bonding philosophy about life.  That philosophy was formed during the time Judy, Leslie and I lived in those three tiny houses on Border Avenue.

As I write this, Leslie is living her final hours.  How can I describe losing a friend of forty five years?  I can’t.  And so, as I write this piece and reflect on our lifetime, I am acutely aware that shortly, there will be one.  I love you my dear friend. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Bounded Awareness

Making an exit is a process.  I am focused.  I whisper to my granddaughters, “I’m leaving now”.  Ava looks at me with an understanding gaze.  I am careful when picking up my keys from the crystal bowl on the table.  I ensure there is no noise.  This is an art.  Slowly I open the back door so no creeping could be heard.   Success!!  My focused attention to all the details worked!   

I successfully sneak out of the house without Barkley, my precious toy poodle becoming aware that he must stay home this time. I hate looking at his pathetic begging expression when he will be left behind.  He has a way to multiply my guilt ten-fold.

As I drive away while opening my purse to ensure my drivers license is at hand. I need to show it at the gate.  Once I couldn’t find my license.  It isn’t a good idea to drive onto a military base and tell the military police you have no driver’s license to show.  Take my word for it.  It can get ugly.

Twenty minutes later, I am at the Air Force Base, presenting my identification.  I drive through the gate and  park my car.  I arrive as usual; about ten minutes before class starts. Ten minutes is plenty of time to talk to the university staff, pick up materials and effortlessly facilitate tonight’s subject “Bounded Awareness”.  Bounded Awareness is the failure to see and use information and resources that are readily available.  We experience this when becoming narrowly focused.  Failure to take the complete environment into consideration can result in mistakes.  

I reach in the back seat to grab my bag filled with books, notes and video material for the night.  I spent a few hours this week reviewing the material and making sure I’m up to date on any changes that might have taken place on this subject in the past year.  I am totally prepared to deliver this material and marvel at my creative ability to find the perfect video from a National Geographic Series “The Brain Game”.  It features a twenty minute piece on Inattention Blindness, which effortlessly connects to Bounded Awareness.  

To my horror I realize I left the bag at home!  I was so focused on making sure my dog didn’t see me leave that I forgot all my materials.  I am caught up in a self-imposed drama of Bounded Awareness!  I call my son to rescue me.  I run into the building and bolt up the stairs.  I quickly write a note on the white board indicating class will start 1/2 hour late. 

I run out to the gate to wait for Brendan.  The military police are understanding allowing Brendan to drive onto the base and drop me off at the door rather than have me walk the 10 minutes or so to get to my classroom.  As I walk into the classroom, I realize there is a happy ending to this drama. I have a fresh story to demonstrate the concept of Bounded Awareness.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Doorway

Words in a James Taylor song ring true at unexpected times my life …”Lord knows when the cold wind blows, it will turn your head around”.  Today was one of those days.  I woke to a cold morning.  An uncommon cold snap has crossed the city.  Laying on my king sized bed and under the warmth of my down comforter I procrastinate, just briefly, to start my day.  This is a morning easily given into.  It would be so simple to turn on the TV and just call it a “me” day.

“Come on Barkley, it’s time to get up”, I gently coax my perfectly groomed toy poodle.  He too is enjoying the warmth of the comforter.   He yawned, looked up and then realized it was time for his pills and breakfast.  I carefully wrap each of his morning pills in roast beef I buy from the deli.  I pay a premium for his roast beef but it is only a fraction of the $150 per month his medication costs, coupled with his grooming appointments, pet insurance, teeth brushing and routine checks at the veterinarian, he is a well cared for friend.

Today is Monday, the day I volunteer in my granddaughter Mia’s classroom.  I rush to get ready, pound a cup of freshly brewed coffee and quickly leave through the backdoor and into the garage.  As I start the car opening the automatic garage door, it is a day like any other.  I am looking forward to working with a room full of five-year-old children.  Their new fresh lives energize me.  I quickly turn on the heat and begin my journey.

I turn onto Carson Boulevard where small businesses line the streets in between fast-food restaurants and gas stations.  Just down the road is a large county hospital.  This is the facility where people go when they cannot afford insurance; the facility where alcohol and drug overdoses are common; where victims of violence are treated and the facility where people are forced to enter when they won’t take their medication. 

Red lights are flashing from the lone police car at the side of the road.  Two police officers  and a handful of bystanders are standing on the sidewalk looking down at the doorway to one of the businesses.  A white  sheet is covering a newly discovered statistic.  Homeless people sleep in doorways.

I wonder what is under the sheet . . . a man, a woman?  This was someone’s child.  It could have been someone’s mother or father.  What were her hopes and dreams?  I wonder if a significant event triggered this life or could it have been a chosen life or even a life destined and driven by DNA.  It appears to be a torturous life to me – but was it to him?  Did he talk to himself in a mean and chastised way or had she reconciled to her self-imposed normal?  Was it self-imposed? Was he cold as he lay there dying?  Did anyone pass without notice?  

I reflect on my previous night of comfort around those that I love and am loved by.  I am instantly saddened by the unanswered questions that create an image under the sheet that lay inside the cold doorway.

I watch the bystanders and the police officers standing around…waiting for the truck that will haul away the remnants of what is left.  Are they hardened?  Do they care?  Is there judgment?  Is this just a morning nuisance?  Or, are they too saddened and reflective? Maybe I should have started this post with John Lennon’s “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”.  There are so many questions that come to mind as I watch this scene. 

I arrive at Mia's classroom and watch the fresh new curious faces and can't help continuing the reflection of the morning scene.

This is the life most don’t want to see…the life many deny but is ever-present in every community.  I know.