Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tough on Crime

Bronia was a Holocaust survivor. A young teen when the war broke out, she was sent to Auschwitz for the first part of her imprisonment, then to Germany to work in the factories where she finished out the war.

Once the war ended, she came to Kansas City with her husband. (I asked her once, "why, of all the places in the world, Kansas City?" She replied, as if no further explanation was necessary, "that's where Truman was from!")

Bronia stood all of five feet tall, maybe, and in her younger days was a slim girl. (By the time I knew her, she was quite round - she told me once she didn't care how much she weighed, but after her experience in the camps, she was determined she would never be hungry again. And she wasn't.)

After they arrived in Missouri, she and her husband opened a bakery at 31st and Woodland. The neighborhood there wasn't a bad one back then, but there are always a few bad apples about.

One day, a normal business day, a man came in with a gun. He pointed it at Bronia, standing behind the register, and demanded she give him the money.

Rather than money, she gave him a piece of her mind. What did he think he was doing? Didn't he know how thin their margins were? She had no money to spare! This was America, and she hadn't come this far to get all she'd built since arriving here taken away!

He'd picked the wrong bakery to rob. Back in the day, she'd faced down Eichmann. Some punk with a gun wasn't going to worry her any.

As she berated him for his lack of good sense and manners, she was busy packing up a bag of doughnuts. She finished up her tirade with a bit of compassion - surely, he wouldn't be trying to rob Bronia's bakery if he wasn't hungry. She came around the counter, put the bag of goodies in his free hand, and pushed him out the door, telling him not to come back again until he'd learned some sense!

I can picture the man, standing on the sidewalk, looking at the gun in one hand and the bag of bakery goods in the other. A bit dazed, not sure what just happened, he goes on his way, still puzzled and definitely well-chastened - never to bother Bronia again.

If only all robberies could end the same way. A well measured dose of compassion dished out alongside an eye-opening moment where the would-be-criminal learns to see others as something other than marks to be taken.

We might need more bakeries then, but we'd definitely need fewer prisons.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


I sometimes have a hard time getting me to get out of the house and socialize. I almost always enjoy it when I go places, but I usually have to promise me I don't have to stay for more than thirty minutes if I'm not having fun before I can get me out the door.

The neighborhood picnic a few weeks ago was no exception. There WAS the added lure of free food, so I walked the block from my house to the party after it was in full swing. I grabbed a plate, looked around, and saw my neighbors sitting at one of the tables. Score! I joined them, figuring this was an easy way to use up those minutes.

They introduced me to Bill, one of their longtime friends, who lives fairly close by. I politely asked what Bill does for a living - turns out he makes miniatures. For real. Well. Suddenly I wasn't in quite such a hurry to move along. I've always wondered how they managed to make small replicas - there's a Toy & Miniature Museum just down the street; I spent a fascinating afternoon there with my family a few years back, marveling at the teeny-tiny beautiful furniture in the doll houses.

It took me over an hour of fast talk and (sincere) flattery before Bill agreed to show me his workshop. We were both busy the following week, so I finally got over there this past Tuesday.

I was amazed, enthralled, intrigued.

The best part?  He let me hold some of the art. Unlike in the museum, where they sensibly place everything behind glass, he had a few pieces scattered about the shop. It was so fun to get to touch them!

He made the toolbox pictured here - and had a similar one he brought out for my inspection. The tools are made of hardwoods and real steel. The calipers work, the inch-long, quarter inch wide ruler has proper hash marks and itty-bitty numbers engraved along its length. The tiny saw (a little longer than an inch stem to stern) had even tinier teeth. I couldn't quite see them, they were so small, but he let me hold it and I could feel them with my fingertips - they were sharp enough to cut! He made the tiny working lock and key, the box and all of the tools and supplies inside right there in his brightly lit basement workshop.  Wow.

He plays for a living; termed it that way himself. He works when he wants to, doesn't when he needs a break. His love for his craft is evident in his creations. I felt honored because he took a few hours to share a piece of his world with me. (And maybe, just maybe a little envious of his skill and abilities.) He was patient with my thousand questions, let me run his tiny plane along the side of a handy pencil.

I came home with thoughts of all I'd seen and learned spinning through my head, the frustrations of the work day distant and forgotten.

See?  Sometimes good things happen when I stretch the boundaries of my comfort zones!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I Know a Dreamer

Adriana* (*not her real name) was assigned to work with me in the tech room my first year at Cristo Rey. She was a shy girl, quiet. Beautiful and bright; quick to catch on to what I needed her to do, a diligent and loyal worker.

Adri had a beautiful smile, marred by one tooth which had decided to head east instead of south when it came in. I wanted so badly to take her to the orthodontist to get it fixed, but reminded myself my job wasn't to rescue her from the circumstances which made orthodontia unaffordable, but rather to help make it possible for her to open the doors to a future where she could afford to take care of it herself.

While she worked for me, we had a staff workday; an all day required meeting. I knew one of her passions was photography, so rather than have her sitting bored and alone in the room all day, I brought in my good camera and gave her an assignment - to go take 50 pictures on and about the school grounds. When I came back on break, I showed her how to download them to the computer, and had her select the five best photos.

The results were amazing, and showed an artist's soul. (I had the top five developed into 8x10s, gave her a copy, and proudly displayed another set in my room.)

By her accent, I knew she hadn't lived here her whole life, but there are questions one doesn't ask in this day and age, and so I didn't ask them.

Fast forward a couple of years, and she shyly approached me after school one day. Would I sign the papers documenting she'd been here, as required by DACA, so she could register to legally stay? Would I? Of course!

Fast forward another three years, and my young friend is working her way through college. She recently married, and her Facebook page shows a tender smile as she looks lovingly at her newborn child.

Adriana is a Dreamer. She is one of those who Trump is threatening to send away (not home - her home has been in the US for almost all of her memory). She didn't choose to come here as a young child. She is an asset to her adopted home.

He would send her, where?  She has no home in her country of origin, her family is here. He would tear this young family apart because...  why? She has done no wrong. None.

I don't have words to describe the depth of wrong it would be to send her away. America will never be great if we treat our children as disposable pawns in a political game. My head hangs low in shame, watching how we treat the vulnerable and innocents ones in our midst. My heart cries, because there's nothing I can do. I voted, I've written my congressional representatives, drops of effort that evaporated unnoticed in the desiccated heat of today's divided government.

I can pray.
I can hope anyways.

but, dammit! Leave the Dreamers alone!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The First Year is (not) the Hardest

A former employee of my new company came by yesterday to catch up with some of his old friends. The group gathered just outside my cube; I didn't know him, so I said hello, then got back to work.

He perched on my neighbor's desk as the group caught up his life. As he related the story of his mother dying earlier this year, my heart went out to him. He's obviously still in shock, was telling the story of how they've all worked together to help his dad learn how to keep house and pay bills and do all the things his mother used to do for him. He swallowed hard, then said, "they tell me this first year is the hardest".

At that, I closed my eyes to squeeze back the tears. Mom died forty years ago today.  Forty.

I didn't tell him my perspective; I didn't speak up to say I disagreed with 'them'. For his sake, I hope his story will be different than mine. I hope he will allow himself to grieve, and to move on with his life. I hope this first year WILL be the hardest one.

For me, I can barely recall the first year after she died. It was hard, yes, but my life was so upended I didn't feel much of anything except the need to keep a stiff upper lip; to keep a smile on the face the world could see.

It was later when it was hard. Not all-at-once hard the way the first year was, but knock-your-knees-unexpectedly-out-from-under-you hard. I'd be going along just fine, and then something would happen where she should have been there; a day she would have been proud of me, a day she would have given me comfort and advice.

Those were the days when the grief came back in force; unanticipated, unlooked for, unwanted. It dimmed my joy, it magnified my sorrow. Now those, those were the hardest days.

I've learned much about grieving over the years. Grief only eases when you don't stuff it away; when you move the rug and shift the floorboard and let it out of the hole you shoved it into when you weren't allowed to work with it. It doesn't go away tucked into its hiding place. Rather, it grows. I've learned, when it surfaces, to let it out, to air it in the sun. Sunlight heals. My grief only began to fade after I learned to greet it when it had something to say, and walk with it for a piece before once again laying it to rest.

I still miss her, will never know how life shoulda-woulda-coulda been different if I'd not grown up too young. But I've learned to see the silver linings behind the cloud; to acknowledge, and yes, even celebrate, the strengths I have only because she died too young.

All this, yes.

But while I think the hardest days are finally firmly behind me, 40 years later, my heart still breaks just a little when the calendar turns again to the day she died.

Rest in Peace, Mom.
I love you.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

Like everyone else I know, I spent the last week riveted to the the stream of pictures and stories streaming out of Texas in the wake of the hurricane.

I felt - awe, sorrow, horror, gratitude.

The storm escalated so quickly - from a something-in-the-Gulf on Wednesday to it's-a-category-4-hurricane-coming-straight-to-Texas! on Friday night. My mind worked to grasp the sense of a storm system large enough to cover much of the Gulf of Mexico. I listened with dread to the predictions of 40-50 inches of rain. I studied the beauty of the swirling clouds in awe - how can anything so destructive be so majestic?

I empathized with the Houston mayor who asked people not to evacuate - the numbers were hard, but I think he made the right call - homes are safer than cars in a major event like this, and there is no way for five million people to leave town safely under most any circumstance, let alone with the threat of flooding at their heels. One overheated, broken-down car would have endangered thousands of lives.

I tried to imagine myself watching the waters rise up to my home, feeling wrenching tears as I mentally cataloged what I could safely get above the flood in time. Feeling watcher's guilt as I knew that level of flooding is highly unlikely to hit me personally.

I found myself angry at the climate change deniers and those who built in flood plains despite warnings from scientists and engineers. I'm guessing those who did the building were not the same people doing the watching as all they owned was destroyed. Just because you don't want it to be true, just because you ignore the facts, just because you choose to be ignorant; these things don't mean Nature will pay you a bit of attention or alter her implacable step.  You idiots! (speaking to those builders)

I felt hope and gratitude. The Cajun Army rode in to the rescue when official forces weren't able to get there in time. Ordinary people who felt a call to help, and unblinkingly answered the call, risking their property and their lives to rescue people and pets, to deliver supplies.

The storm passed, as storms always do, and I felt inadequate. How can one help? I will send some money to the Houston food back. It will ensure at least one person won't go hungry for a few days. And I know many people are doing the same, but in the face of the massive destruction, can it help?

Yes, it can. Money won't fix the problems, but together, it can help to ease them. Troubles are more easily borne if one's stomach is not screaming for sustenance.

and maybe, just maybe, this will be a wake-up call to the powers that be. It's too late to do what should have been done twelve years ago after Katrina drowned New Orleans, or after Sandy decimated the east coast in 2012.  We can't change the past, but it's not too late to do what we can do today to get ready for the next storm - because it will come.

Climate change is real, and it is here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


I can't remember ever feeling so simultaneously profoundly disappointed and supremely satisfied.

My inner science geek was SO looking forward to the eclipse. The forecast kept wavering between cloudy and sunny - and when it happened, if you were in the Kansas City area, it was a crapshoot as to whether or not you got to see it between gaps in the clouds.

We were up north a ways - and got to see just a few tantalizing glimpses of the eclipse through the clouds. One of the moments was when the sun's corona looks like a diamond ring - if I had had to pick a one, that would have been it.

I was SO disappointed we weren't able to see more of it.


Because I couldn't see the sun and moon in the sky, I focused on all the other signs of the eclipse around us. I saw a sunset in the south, and the light took on an eerie quality I've never seen before. The bugs and birds went to ground, just like I was told they would. The wind stilled, the temperature dropped, and the sky darkened for the shortest night ever.

If I'd have been able to see the sky, I can promise you my attention would have been totally focused there, and I'd have missed all the other beauty of the moment.

Once again the Universe took it upon itself to remind me to look always for beauty; if I look, I will see it. The beauty I saw was not the beauty I'd sought, but the beauty I saw was still able to capture the wonder of those otherworldly two minutes.

It's hard to let go of dreams, to accept less than an optimal experience.

I did my part. I was watching and waiting and ready. If the Universe didn't deliver on her side, well, at least I was there and ready and open to see whatever there was to see.

What there was there I will long remember.
And who knows, perhaps I'll get another chance.
There's always 2024...

Monday, August 14, 2017

Loud Drumbeats

The drumbeats of war are loud this week.

North Korea.
Charlottesville, Virginia.

Voices raised in anger and scorn, fear and hate.

I hear them, and their anger is strong and their fear is contagious. I must hunker down, gather and protect my own, and find a place where we will be safe.

But there is no safe place - and I start to panic.

Then, reason returns.

I remember again, the only constant is change. Our days are not guaranteed. The only thing I can control is my reaction to what happens in my world. (Thank you, Viktor Frankl.)

I was reading Ken Follett's Edge of Eternity these past few weeks. I've read historical fiction before - this is the first time I've been old enough, and the period covered recent enough, for me to parallel the events in the book with my life.

I was born the year the Berlin Wall went up. I toddled my way through the tumultuous civil right's movement of the early 60's. The Kennedys were shot; the trajectory of our country changed - and I was learning to read. It struck home in a way it never has before - even in time of war, there are pockets of peace.

I can't control what's happening in the world around me. Heck, I count it a good day if I manage to keep the cats off the counter while I fix dinner.

But I can control my fear and decide not to panic.

Hate is loud, but Love whispers anyways.

It doesn't seem possible Love could ever win, even for a moment, but it does.

I can listen for Love's whispers, add my voice to the quiet, steady chorus when I can, because I can. Anyways.