Archive for the ‘Things of Beauty’ Category

Miraculous Moments on the Streets of Victoria BC

Today I received an email from my friend Sandy, who lives in Nashville, though we met in Dallas in 1967, when I was pregnant with my first child, Pepi. We were instant friends and soon she became pregnant with her first. When she delivered, I dreamed I was in the delivery room with her, and saw the baby as he arrived. The next day when I visited, I realized it had actually happened: I had met Andy somehow as he was born. (She called me her weirdest friend, but oh well.)

And yet, today, after emailing that we’d be passing through Nashville on Sunday, could we meet for lunch, she emailed back a long story about her current battle with breast cancer. Shocked and sorrowed, we spoke on the phone.

She has displayed such FORTITUDE getting through this. I asked why she didn’t let me know, after mulling over in my mind, would I have let her know? She said it’s just all been so hard, so crazy. She had lots of support from kids and grandkids. A lumpectomy was all that was needed.  She was going to be fine; chemo is over, radiation is next. She will survive.

And for this I’m grateful, and yet sad: I love this person, a woman with whom I bonded all those 44 years ago. A sister in some ways, which I never had biologically. How did we grow apart? Our interests and circumstances diverting to different paths.

Yet forever we are bonded with a love tie. A miracle of friendship and trust. Tonight Bobby and I will chant the Misha Beret, weep, pray and fill our thoughts with love and light.

Sandy, we are here with you forever..
Love, Miriam


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Thinking it Over

Seeing the Light

My dear friend Dr. Peggy Brown sent me this Chinese folk tale, in response to one of my emails to her. Without going into our “conversation” that provoked this response, I thought I’d share the story here and see how others respond. So please, send me your comments and thoughts after you read this story. And thanks Peggy for your wisdom, as usual.

“An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.

But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.

‘I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.’

The old woman smiled, ‘Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?’

That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.’

For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table.

Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”

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Karma Transplant

This is the time of the year to rejoice in our blessings. This is the time of the year to rejoice. Here is the story of just one of my many blessings:

Dottie tells me how lucky I am to have Bobby in my life now. She’s right. Bobby and I both feel lucky to have reconnected with one another. And it’s nice to be considered one of the lucky ones. It’s quite a change.

For the longest time, I was the one among my friends who was always down, worried about finances, a turbulent marriage, rejections from editors, rejections from jobs I was seeking—with desperation in fact–in order to get out of the turbulent marriage and settle my financial issues. Problems – Problems — Problems, with a capital P and that rhymes with Me and that stands for Misery. So many years of misery.

Things have turned around in my life; these last 10 years or so have been the best I have ever known. I did find a great job, moved to a new city, leaving my marriage, and after several years, reunited with the true love of my life, after a 40 year hiatus, moved again to be able to start a new life together, and eventually a new career. My writing changed from serious and scholarly, biography and autobiography, even fiction – a long novel—to some new genres of writing, including playwriting—most recently one with my friend Dottie, a friend I’ve known since kindergarten.

Life is good, not problem free, but with problems my husband and I solve together with as little stress as possible.

New karma! I have new karma.

Karma? Can karma be new? Well, yes and no. Formally, karma is considered an inescapable principle in which each person is rewarded or punished in one incarnation according to the actions and ethical choices one made in prior incarnations. (Of course that is an oversimplified definition and ignores the subtle differences cultures impose on the concept.)

Nevertheless, the way I chose to use the word allows me to see karma as a life long string of events that seemed to keep me in a negative but longing-for-better, striving-for-better, position. And about 10 or 12 years ago, I’d had enough. One day while having coffee at a local Borders, I told my friend Larry Campbell, a medical doctor, that I was going to have a Karma Transplant. Of course he laughed, but seriously advised me this was impossible—given that one’s karmic path is sealed before one is born, and that most people think we have to live it out in this life and wait for the next.

Desperate, I forged ahead.

I had to find a way to give my life a chance because truly (not joking here) I felt if I had to go on living in a black hole, I had no reason to keep living. I couldn’t stop living because I knew I’d never put that kind of burden on my two children, even though they were adults by then. Children are always children and parents, parents. We must behave in ways that give the next generation good models, good patterns. So I had to find a way to make my life work. Karma was the only answer.

How does one get a karma transplant? Well, at least for me, it meant not starting with a doctor, clergy, or any outside help. It meant going deep inside myself and extracting the poison, exfoliating the rough edges of my life, climbing out of the black muck that held me down.

For me, that meant wailing, ranting, screaming out against the elements in the universe that I felt sought to destroy me. At home alone, I sat at the dining room table and simply screamed at the top of my lungs: “Leave me alone. Go find someone else to torment. I’ve had enough. I refuse to acknowledge defeat on any level. I will prevail against these negative forces” and so on. I cried out for a karma transplant, knowing that whatever kind of entities were listening, would understand exactly what I meant.

Since that life-transforming day, I have learned that spiritual advisors call that “voicing intent.” I like having a word to describe the process, but the process is the same: a cry for change. A demand for a new normal.

It took several sessions of such “irrational” behavior (or maybe super-rational behavior is a better term), but at some point, the dark cloud lifted, and I was able to climb out of the black hole that had suffocated me for too many years. In life, I started getting some yeses—from publishers, from job applications, from other quests I’d hoped would bring me some modicum of freedom. YESES. I almost didn’t know what they were—loud and clear yeses are hard to hear when the ear is trained to hear nos.

Many wonderful things happened to me that gave me a sense of accomplishment, autonomy, and security. I was at peace with myself long before I contacted Bobby and changed my life once again. When I decided to make the changes necessary for us to spend our lives together, I no longer felt needy or desperate. I felt in charge.

So yes, Dottie, I am lucky; these years do belong to Bobby and me. They belong to us, to our love and the light in our eyes. Bobby likes to say: “It’s our time.” And it is.

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My seven year old granddaughter spent several days with us after her parents’ visit. Though she has spent the night with her cousin next door in Dallas, this was the first time she spent away from home. We all had a fabulous time getting to know each other on a whole new level.

Still mourning the loss of her dog Zen, she told me lots of Zen stories over the course of her visit. Away from the family home, I thought, she was able to heal a bit from her feeling of loss.

On the Sunday of her visit, Bobby and I took her to a musical play at Stages—The Marvelous Wonderettes: singing and dancing, with child friendly songs from the 50s and 60s. She loved the experience and was the youngest person in the audience. Afterwards, we went to Cleburne cafeteria on Bissonnet, a Houston institution of sorts. As we left, she got the usual balloon they give out to children. She chose purple and tied it to her wrist. The Houston heat was still intense at around 6:00 PM when we left; the parking lot steaming. The balloon popped the instant it touched the metal of a car, and somehow, made her eye sting and burn for a few minutes. We asked if she wanted another—she turned it down. Enough with the balloons, her expression said.   

 A couple days later, we went to Central Market and the woman at the entrance offered her another balloon. She said no thanks, then changed her mind and accepted it, tied loosely to her wrist. This one was green.

We spent a delightful hour or so filling our cart with things she loves—lots of pickles and olives, some veggies of her choice, as well as some things in the sweet and non-nourishing categories. When we got near the car with our packages, I started to remind her to keep the balloon away from the hot cars. Before I could speak, she asked me to help her take the balloon off her arm:

 “I want to let it go up into the sky,” she said smiling.

“Sounds good to me,” I told her. The expression on her face as she watched the green ball disappear into the stark blue, shimmering sky was simply rhapsodic

“Mimi, know why I wanted to let it go?” she asked as it disappeared beyond the horizon.

“No, why?”

“I sent the balloon up to Zen,” she smiled. “I wanted to send him a present. He’s playing with it now.”

Maybe balloons don’t pop in heaven. I like to think so.

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Good-bye to Zen

Tonight the Harris/Wucher/Ellison/Meyer/Friedman families and many others whose lives he touched are mourning Zen Harris, a Shar Pei who happens to be my grand-dog and who passed away last night in the arms of my sweet son, Earl Harris. Debbie, my daughter- in-law, was out with a friend; perhaps it was best as he was “officially” her dog, a birthday present when she and Earl first moved to Chicago.

Those of you who know me well know I’m not a dog lover, not an animal lover at all. But you also know I love my children and my grandchildren very much. When they hurt, I hurt and that’s all there is too it.

And yet, and yet . . . I have some wonderful memories of my grand-dog Zen and lots of funny moments to recall. And I have a great sorrow that last week when I was in town, I didn’t make it to the Harris home to tell him good-bye. It seemed impossible to get by there–meeting kids and grandkids at local restaurants during a trip that was primarily buisness. Don’t we always have regrets when someone we care about dies? Well, it turns out this non-dog lover has regrets about an animal I met as a new puppy and watched mature over the last 11 years.

Shar Pei means “draping, sand paper skin” in Chinese. When I first met Zen, his skin was too large for his frame and he would shake all over “adjusting” his coat over and over, then frisky and wild, run and jump and play all over Debbie and Earl’s Chicago town house.  As he matured, his skin grew less wrinkled! (how I wish I’d found out his secret for that accomplishment!) and the distracting habit faded into memory. But his frisky personality remained, all 11 years of his life.

Debbie and Earl moved to Dallas about 8 years ago; Zen became master of his new domain, rushing to the door of their new home, jumping, licking, sniffing in the most embarassing areas before letting anyone step over the threshold of the Harris home.  Zen stands for peace and harmony, I’d think. Was this an appropriate name for such an energetic animal? Perhaps I had something to learn about peace, harmony; I knew I had lots to learn about dogs.

One day while I was visinting, Zen answered the door wearing a red bandana around his neck. When I’d gotten past his usual wet and disconcerting greeting, I asked Earl why was he wearing that? and he answered: “Oh, he knows how great he looks in it–see how proud he is.”

I have to admit, being a dog skeptic, I couldn’t really tell proud from any other mannerisim accompanied by all those sniffs and licks and jumps. But I knew Earl and Debbie knew. And soon the kids knew too.

Speaking of kids, because of Zen’s size and frisky personality, when Debbie was pregnant with Lindi, now 7 years old, I expressed my new fear: “Aren’t you worried that he’ll eat the baby one day when you’re not watching?” Debbie looked at me like I was nuts–and I admit that quality when it comes to my fears of dogs.

 “Eat the baby”? she asked.  “You’re kidding, right”? I shrugged. He didn’t eat either Lindi or Cooper for that matter. In fact, sometimes I thought they were trying to eat him–they loved him so much.

We all knew this was coming: Zen was diagnosed with sarcoma just a few weeks ago. He’d been strong and healthy and then, suddenly, he wasn’t any more. “Is he in pain,” I’d asked when I found out. “Not yet,” my son thought, but was certain pain could come in time. We all hope that he didn’t last long enough to suffer.

Concidently, the day Zen died, Earl and I had a discussion while he was driving home. I asked how Zen was feeling, how is illness was progressing. Earl told me Zen had less energy each day, but that he refused to give in to his illness.” He’s so strong, so stubborn, so smart. Brilliant,” he said. “Everyone tells us he will stop eating when his time comes; then we’ll know.”

But he hadn’t stopped eating yet and he followed them around, even the housekeeper had his constant presence the day before. That evening, Zen ate his dinner and then asked to go outside. It struck Earl as odd that he wouldn’t come back in no matter how much Earl coaxed him; no matter how hard he tried.

“I tried to pick him up and carry him inside–he hates that because he is such an in-charge kind of dominating dog–and he snarled at me. After putting the kids to bed, I checked on him again. By then he had collapsed by the swing set; by then he was weak and I picked him up and brought him in. He stayed on my lap and after some time time passed, I felt him let go.”

If Zen means peace and harmony, then perhaps he has found it; let us think of Zen in Zen now, wearing that red bandana, watching over his familiar domain, and dominating his next one.

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The Ocean in 3D

Schools of Fish in the Ocean near Puerto Vallarta

Today I took my grandsons, ages 7 and 5, to see  Dolphins and Whales at the I Max in 3 D at the Museum of Health and Science. I thought it would be interesting for all of us. And it was. But  troubling. Daryl Hannah narrated the movie in a calm reasuring voice, but her words were filled with trepidation.

As she referred to each genus in the order CETACEA , she gave statistics regarding their diminishing numbers; her closure to each segment reminded us of the dangers each mammal faced. Pollution affects their food–other fish or algea as the case may be–and if their food is polluted, they get sick, just like we do. We watched in amazment as a Fin Whale swallowed a whole school of fish in one gulp. We were moved to learn that the Humpback  nurtured and nursed her young for one whole year. And that the Manatee is the friendliest whale of all.

But we also came to realize how precarious their lives are. Their various mating habits, calving, even nursing take place in specific water temperatures and as the polar ice caps melt, the waters’ increase in temperature adversely affects propagation of some genuses.

The beauty of this film is indescribable: the clear oceans, the dance of the fish in their tribes, the feeding, the mating, the fighting, the playfulness, all captured in a 3D ballet. When I looked around the auditorium, I saw a secondary ballet of hands dancing toward the images. My 5 year old grandson said: “You reach out to touch them and it’s just air.”

“Yes,” I said, “Like ghosts.” The 7 year old reached out his hand to touch a dolphin tail swishing in front of his face.  Both boys giggled–at the “ghost” like images before them, the bubbles, the songs, the chirping of some, the low moaning horn of another, the high pitched squeals and long low bellows.

And I sense that every adult in that theater layered discomfort onto their facscination. How much longer would these species of mammals survive? How long before they are indeed just ghosts, extinct as the dinosaurs in the next room. Silent as the fossilized fish captured in rock in the gift shops.

I left with a heavy heart: when the film was made, the oil had not spilled yet–well of course it has over and over in small amounts. But the ghastly disaster we see on TV each night, read about in papers, magazines, e-news sites, blogs had not occurred. How many of these whales and dolphins are already ghosts–brown-covered, sludge-drowned corpses. How long will their spirits haunt us?

With  growing alarm I exit the theater, Daryl Hanna’s opening words echoing in my brain: we depend on the eco system of the ocean for our own quality of life; we cannot live without the life held therein; I try to recall her exact statistics on how many left of each species featured in the film–how many increasingly diminished as we watched?

COMMENTS WELCOME: What films have you seen lately that impressed you regarding the crises we face as human beings living in a turbulent world? What do you see as the ethical way to be heard as individuals concerned with the assaut of humans on our planet.  What kinds of world events frighten you the most?

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Oil Spill

Peaceful and Pure

My son Earl said: “The world is on fire” when the financial world imploded. 

I wonder if the whole universe is on fire now; I wonder if the universe is rebelling–against humanity’s irresponsibility. Earthquakes, tornados, multiple hurricanes predicted in the next few months. Is the universe responding not only to our misuse, our waste, of its natural resources, but also to our unethical behavior regarding business, politics, war, education, finance, insurance.

Is this Armageddon? The Apocalypse?  I hear T.S. Eliot decrying in The Wasteland:

“. . . A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,/And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief/And the dry stone no sound of water . .”

 Does our earth reflect the broken ethics of humankind?  Birds and fish covered in oil, white beaches dotted with tar? A blight on our character? Our conscience?

I am not religious, though perhaps spiritual. Will the universe respond to vigils some  groups advocate?  Are they asking for a way to help us heal this massive oil spill? Or a way to improve human nature and teach us to take fewer risks with our resources and with one another.  To value life—all life—animal, vegetable, mineral.

What are the connections between corporate and political dishonesty and ruthlessness? In finance, politics, war, the food industry, insurance industry, education? Our world seems to be imploding as we witness human behavior in a massive degenerative cataclysm.

How do we overcome this feeling of hopelessness, helplessness? By organizing group vigils? Political inquiries? Seventies-type marches again on DC? From where do we draw the faith and courage to believe we can have any impact on all this? 

I have no answers; only questions.

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