Monday, October 25, 2010

Burning Candles

Since starting this blog, several people have asked if I would write one especially for them. That’s a hard thing to do, and my standard answer is, “let me mull it over,” which is my version of “maybe” which is mom-speak for “not happening in this lifetime.”  And just as I say that into my life an exception must fall.

A friend sent me his version of a story he heard from another friend. This conversation, he wrote, “just hit home and I don’t know why.” And he asked if I could “do something with it.”

The story told was of a truly good woman. She and her husband were just beginning that phase when all things are new again, but instead of setting off on that next adventure, she was diagnosed with ALS. The disease has progressed more rapidly than they hoped, and the adventure she is facing is not the one she and her husband had eagerly anticipated.

While visiting this good woman, and in the course of conversation, they spoke of all the candles the friend of my friend had given her over the years, ones brought back from world travels. And the good woman said, “I should have burned your candles.”

Truth is everyone has a candle that should’ve been burnt long ago, but sometimes you can’t bring yourself to do it. Perhaps the candle is too lovely. Perhaps it evokes a memory. Perhaps it’s just comforting to see it sitting in the same place waiting for just the right moment that never quite arrives.

It would be far too easy to pen some stale platitudes about wasting time or having bucket lists; I suspect the lady’s comment speaks to a different issue. It’s really about not using what we’re given. Whether it’s the gift of a candle, the gift of song, or even the gift of friendship, we often subvert the intent of the gift. We smile, we say “thank you,” then tuck it away. We hide behind the exterior loveliness, afraid we’ll use up that which has been handed to us.

Given trust, we repay with suspicion. Shown daylight, we linger in the shadows. Extended friendship, we mirror antipathy. When our heart of hearts recognizes a remedy proffered, we rarely accept it without first looking for attached strings. Given a candle, we put it on a shelf and never get around to lighting it.

The interesting thing about candles is that while they burn, they provide light, warmth, and if we’re very lucky, a bit of scent to spirit us away to another place. Lighting the candle and allowing it to burn is a commitment to letting the candle to do its job while giving ourselves permission to enjoy the experience.

With all my heart, I hope this good woman has enough quality time to burn every one of those candles.

The Wifely Person’s Tip o’the Day
It is easy to hoard things for a rainy day, 
it's difficult to determine when a day is rainy enough.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thoughts while sitting at the bottom of a ski slope in autumn.

This weekend, I went to a wedding.

I’ve been to lots of weddings, some in synagogues, some in cathedrals, some in clapboard chapels, some on the beach. This one happened to be on the side of a ski hill….a very particular ski hill.

Ziggy - spring 1975
I didn’t realize where I was going until I was driving down the gorge to the chalet. And it wasn’t until I was shown to my seat that I looked up…and my breath was sucked right out of me. You see, I knew this hill. Back in the day, when I was the one with the car and my buddy Ziggy wanted to go skiing, I used to pack my books, and sit in the chalet with a hot chocolate, pretending I was studying but really watching out the window to see him swoosh down the hill, his long hair flying, doing that  hip thing he did.  I was so tolerant of his dragging me out to Afton Alps so I could sit like a latke while he went up and down that hill.

It was hard to sit there and focus on the wedding when, in my mind’s eye, all I could see were those swiveling hips. And they were cute. Trust me. I married those hips. They were cute right up to the end.

Anyway, onto the wedding. I was very excited about attending this wedding and not just because the groom is one of my favorite people…as well as my go-to guy for Greek translation of the Septuagint. These two are the poster children for gorgeous. They are devout in their faith and you knew that every syllable of that wedding would be carefully chosen. I was anxious to see how they made the ceremony their own.

And that’s what confused me. There was so much talk of death and dying in the prayer songs they chose and in the pastor’s sermon that I was almost depressed! I understand the part about Jesus dying on the cross, but for a wedding I wanted the minister to talk about how they are now charged with bringing faith and grace into their new life together. I wanted him to tell them their home should be a place of life and joy and light.

Seated with groom’s family at the reception, I learned I was not the only one who noticed the death and dying part… which made me feel at least a little less weird. One of the groom’s aunts, a Lutheran minister, assured me that she’d not seen anything quite like this either. And the questions I asked were the same questions they asked.

There was great comfort in that; we all had questions about the ceremony. There was no rancor in the queries, no mockery, no judgment, only a real desire to understand the meaning I think we were supposed to get...but that some of us did not. The conversation at that table was spectacular: lively, forthright, and full of honest exchange. There was learning at that table, and I was glad to be a part of it.

I suspect this is the true meaning of faith. What one believes may differ from what others believe, but it is not for any of us to judge what delivers anyone into that place where our spirits are nurtured. That we care enough to want to understand is ultimately what binds us even when we do not share the belief; that we care enough to ask is the real kindness.

Wifely Person’s Tip o’the Week:

Confronted with something foreign and seemingly incomprehensible?
Ask a question.

Monday, October 11, 2010

We the People....part 2

“Blumenthal also demanded to know why McMahon didn’t create jobs in the United States instead of having W.W.E. action figures made in China. This was the moment when McMahon really should have promised a study. Instead, she claimed that the United States does not 'have the kind of policies in place here that are conducive to manufacturing,' citing, among other things, 'high labor costs,' which could not have been much of a comfort to the state’s workers.” 

Connecticut on the Ropes
The New York Times
Published: October 6, 2010

Wanna know what I wanna know? I wanna know what jobs they’re gonna train people for after they’re laid off their jobs.

© 2010, Steven G. Artley, ARTLEY CARTOONS.
I have this theory: if you don’t manufacture anything, you have no employment in the blue collar sector and all those people that had manufacturing jobs are now unemployed and can’t afford much more than groceries to feed themselves and the kids, but the kids still have to go to school so they go to Walmart to buy cheap stuff that’s manufactured off-shore, mostly in China, thereby sending their unemployment dollars NOT to an American factory that pays American workers but to a Chinese factory that under-prices and therefore costs more Americans their jobs so that those Americans are now sending their unemployment dollars to China which in turn causes more US factories to close….and on and on ad nauseum. And then, to add insult to injury, we reward companies that off-shore their manufacturing with tax breaks.

If I wasn’t such a Little-Miss-Sunshine optimistic sort, I might think that this is a global conspiracy to bring down the US. Pity that Ian Fleming isn’t alive to write this, and Lord knows, he would’ve done it justice and then some. He could’ve called it THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN WONTON. 

There are all these campaign ads promising new jobs and retraining, but I keep saying, “show me the factory!” I think we have enough burger flippers and besides, there’s no future in flipping burgers if no one has any income, disposable or otherwise, to spend on fast food with no nutritional value.

So now, you have no income, no money, but you still have mouths to feed, so you purchase inexpensive food that you can extend relatively cheaply: lots of pasta, potatoes, that sort of thing.  REAL juice seems expensive so you turn to “juice drinks,” soda, and flavored water. It’s easy. It’s cheap. And it’s much less effort than cleaning and preparing fresh fruits and vegetables. You and the kids just keep getting bigger and bigger because you’re just eating more and more over-refined sodium laden, nutritionally empty processed foods.

In the old days, poor people were always skinny; now they are obese.  Shall we talk about the diabetic testing supplies and medication you’re gonna need even though your health insurance has run out and there’s no state or federal safety net for you, not to mention your kids because as a nation we cannot afford to provide basic medical care for our most vulnerable citizens?

Tax revenues are down because people aren’t paying income tax on money they don’t earn. The government has to make substantial cuts…social services, street repair, snow-plowing...pick a service any service. And the cuts come on the backs of the poor and middle class…all of whom are in jeopardy of losing even more jobs BECAUSE WE DON’T MANUFACTURE ANYTHING HERE.

There is an ongoing debate in this house and I have no idea if there is even an answer. If foreign-owned company opens a factory here, hires American workers and puts paychecks in American dollars into their pockets, banks, and tax rolls, isn’t that better for the country than outsourcing? 

So while I’m ranting away, I would pose the following question: 
  • If FORD manufactures and assembles a car in off shore in another country, and markets that car here, in the US, is it an American car?  
  • If TOYOTA or VW or any foreign auto maker assembles cars for sale in one of its many US assembly plants, does that constitute an American car?
 Or am I just being Pollyanna again?

Please send in your votes/comments/criticisms/witticisms to thewifelyperson or enter them as a comment. I will present the results in the next blog.

The Wifely Person's Tip o’ the Week
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Monday, October 4, 2010

Win-Win Situations.

Back when Ziggy was Ziggy and all was wright in my world, we would snuggle on the couch and watch the news until he would announce, “It’s time to make the donuts.”  He'd disappear into his study and write Ziggy’s Joke o’the Day, and then I would be summoned for the final edit.

Lying in state on the couch this evening, watching ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, I suddenly caught myself thinking it’s time to make the donuts.  Okay, then. This one’s for Ziggy.

There is nothing more challenging in the state of Minnesota than having to live with a displaced New Yorker. We are a surly bunch, feeling like we live in exile in a place where no one understands/appreciates/likes us. We tawk fuhnny, we wawk fast, we don’t put mayonnaise on meat sandwiches or eat hot-dish, and we know the differences between half-sour and dill pickles. We take our baseball very seriously, and we have a long standing love/hate relationship with ALL our teams, past and present.

My first love was Peewee Reese. I thought he was great. The BROOKLYN Dodgers were the best team on the planet. It was a personal affront when they went west, one which I will personally never forgive. Out of sheer four-year-old spite, I became a Yankee fan.

In 1969, the year of the miracles, I was in high school. I watched Neil Armstrong take that one small step for man in front of a teeny-tiny TV in Jerusalem. I listened to first hand accounts of the mud mess at Max Yasgur’s farm in Woodstock from my friends. But it was jumping up and down in the Wellington C. Mepham High School cafeteria when the Mets took the World Series in Game 5 that made me believe in miracles.

But the Mets are the new team, and they have their issues.  During the Subway Series in 2000, I bought a t-shirt for the senior son: THERE’S A REASON THEY CALL IT FLUSHING.  Need I say more? (Sorry, Dad.)       

Being a Yankees fan is forever. There is nothing to compare to going to the Bronx on a Sunday afternoon to sit in the bleacher cheap-seats of old Yankee Stadium where we could get a tan, read the Times, and occasionally crack a book. The game went on; we watched and we cheered as part of our very consciousness.  Life was on the field. And it was as close to heaven as you could get. You never lose the love for that bombastic, pompous, overstuffed pin-striped roster, and you just have to give yourself up to living with it. 

But here I am in exile on the tundra that is Minnesota, and you can’t help but love the scrappy Twins. An original Homer Hankie hangs in the study…even though one of the opposing Cardinals was a kid I occasionally babysat...and talked to on the phone right before Game 1 of the ’87 series.  They are so clean cut. One lives here in our little town; another I used to see in Lund’s supermarket in the Village where he always had time to reach cans on the top shelf for the little old ladies who knew his grandmother. They are nice guys, clearly good teammates, and community savvy. You want them for your neighbors.

I have always maintained that a Twins v. Yankees game is a win-win situation for me and any other New Yorker living on the tundra.  Either way, we see a team we love progress, and we have learned that here in the heartland of passive/aggressive to keep our otherwise acerbic opinions to our own small ranks. And that’s okay.

But I have to be honest, in my heart of hearts, in the deepest part of my soul, I hope they win.

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