Saturday, October 26, 2019

Keith


Dev at 3 in what was then our new home.
I.

I'm leaving where I have lived for the last 18 years. Dev has gone to Hoboken, fallen in love, and I couldn't be more pleased. On my way out to get tape I needed to close some boxes, I stopped to talk with a neighbor, and I thought she said she was returning a rake to Keith.  When I asked her if that's what she meant, she looked at me and said, "You don't know?"

"Know what?"

"Keith died a few weeks ago."

Keith lived next door. He left behind a wife and a 15-year-old daughter.  I was stunned.

II.

The winter after Rob died, a UPS truck driver plowed down my mailbox and left it in pieces.  When I saw what had happened, I felt like crying. I had been holding so many disparate parts of my life together and this insult was just too much.

I said to Dev, "there's only so many things we can fix. Leave it alone and we'll figure it out tomorrow."   Neither of us had any idea how to put it back together. I imagined all day how I would not be getting mail. I fretted and wondered what to do.  After great loss, the body mostly knows paralysis. Even small decisions can be troublesome.

When I got home that night from work, Keith was at the mailbox.  He had just finished assembling it. It has never fallen again.

That's who he was. Quiet. Kind. Watchful.

III.

I've been away from the house a good deal since it was put on the market and now sold.

Four years ago, Rob was still living. He had just been released from the hospital and was cleared for chemo after battling a staph infection he had gotten when a surgeon placed a filthy port into his chest 7 weeks earlier.  Two weeks from now he would suffer heart trauma and undergo thoracic surgery to remove an abscess the staph infection, followed by chemo, had caused. Hours after learning of Keith's death, I was reminded of the sharp pain that never quite heals.

Loss is never far away, even when I think I have tucked it well under my skin.  I imagine most women who have lost their husbands know some of what my neighbor now faces.  I brought a card over to the house and rang the bell. I could hear the dogs barking and the soft sounds of those at home. I wasn't too surprised that the door remained closed. 

After the first shock wears off, facing life is often too hard. I placed the card in her mailbox and left.

IV.

I wish I was wiser. I wish I had the power to heal with just a word or two and I could say or write something here that would ball up  the immense pain my neighbor, Tracy and her daughter, Natalie must feel. But I know that it asking the impossible and the dangerous. Grief works itself out of a body across years. It's patterned and idiosyncratic.  I see that now. 

The pulse to live is biologically strong. It carries the wounded along until we can find our feet and stand once again. Wobbly knees and all that.

V.

Two things mattered most to me after Rob's death and the years that followed.

Art I made after Rib died from his notebooks,
The first was love. My Devon had just turned 17 a few weeks before his dad died. The love I have for Devon kept me strong and vulnerable.  I did not know I would need both.  I did not know in the months after Rob's death that Devon and I would have to break and fall apart. 

We did.  Where there had never been distance--distance grew. Where there had been trust, trust frayed. Yeat's poem about how the center cannot hold was too true.  We had to break to become whole again.

The second was the knowledge that I have been so well loved by Rob. Distance has a way of reframing the ordinary.  It has allowed me to live brilliantly as he asked, and not live in response to fear.  And lord knows there are so many fears that arose alongside the loss.


VI.

"I don't understand it," says Dawn. "I don't understand why good men die early."
I tell her what Jane told me 2 years ago. "You're never going to understand that. That's what acceptance is.  Accepting what you can't understand."

If you find a quiet moment in the next few days, offer a prayer or two for my neighbor and her young daughter that they may find solace in one another.

Then go and live boldly. 
Live brilliantly.
Live.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Live to the Point of Tears

I.

Tree Lines (M.A. Reilly, acrylic paint, gesso, citra-solv)
"Honesty is reached through the doorway of grief and loss," writes David Whyte in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. "Honesty is not found in revealing the truth, but in understanding how deeply afraid of it we are. To become honest is in effect to become fully and robustly incarnated into powerlessness."

Loss brings the opportunity for honesty, in part because it allows us to know in our bones that powerlessness is unavoidable. Four years ago, most everything I thought I knew to be true became opaque, less clear and the world more topsy-turvy.  By mid-September, 2015, we had seen the oncologist, learned Rob had stage 4 lung cancer, and Rob had scheduled his first chemotherapy session for later in the month.  What we did not know at that moment was that a week earlier a surgeon had placed an infected port into my husband's chest and altered any chance at life he might have had.

I was reminded of all of that and the five months that followed when I received an email from a friend on the West coast last night. When I opened it what first caught my attention was that new email was written in response to an email I had sent 3 years and 7 months earlier, explaining that Rob had died. This caught me unaware.

Loss does not leave a body.  It carries a breath-stealing punch that surfaces without any self-will. It rises full force stirring the acid in the gut, the heart.

A wolf to the throat.


II.

In the trail of emails back and forth, I read the new message: the mother of a friend of Dev's from childhood had died. Agnes Kurdyla Lauria was just 48.


III.

After Rob died I found myself paying attention to death notices as if some insights I so desperately wanted could be fathomed through the loss of another.  The year Rob died, so too did David Bowie, who lived 9 years more than Rob. I measured every one's death by the plus or minus of years from when Rob's life ended.  I did this automatically, without thought. The way I organized time was redefined.

This morning I am wondering once again why good people die. This is not productive thinking and I know that, but nonetheless the thoughts rise and with them come the unknowable, the unanswerable. Agnes, like Rob, was a beloved teacher. I can recall when she first was hired as a basic skills teacher and the many conversation we had while waiting for or collecting our children from school or a sleepover.  Her child, Alex, like mine is just 20-years-old.

How could two sweet children each lose a parent so early in their lives? 


IV.

Perhaps asking, "Why do good people die early?" is a place holder for a more important observation.  Whyte explains:

The French philosopher Camus used to tell himself quietly to live to the point of tears, not as a call for maudlin sentimentality, but as an invitation to the deep privilege of belonging and the way belonging affects us, shapes us and breaks our heart at a fundamental level. It is a fundamental dynamic of human incarnation to be moved by what we feel, as if surprised by the actuality and privilege of love and affection and its possible loss. Courage is what love looks like when tested by the simple everyday necessities of being alive.

Life happens whether we have a hand in designing it or not.  Each breath that breaks tells us we belong.



Thursday, June 6, 2019

June 6, 1944-2019


This is a collage I made on June 6, 2014 in commemoration of the Normandy Invasion and the brave troops. My dad was stationed in England throughout WWII.



Monday, May 20, 2019

Deputy Mayor of Hell’s Kitchen



I.

A small leather case. Corners worn. Nestled inside is a small silver badge that reads: R. Cohen, Deputy Mayor of Hell’s Kitchen.

II.

It really is the small things that cut the deepest. For the last few days I have been decluttering and cleaning as I ready the house for sale. It’s a hard decision to leave the home Rob, Devon and I made here for nearly twenty years. But it’s time. It’s hard to say how I know that to be true, but I do.

Rob left me with so much to get rid of, to organize, and to pack. I had forgotten the badge and found it early this morning. I don’t remember the whole story, but on W. 36th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, Rob’s family’s business was located. The business passed from his grandfather to his father and eventually to him.

Rob grew up knowing all the locals in that neighborhood. Frank McGinnity, who lost a foot to diabetes, dubbed himself the Mayor of Hell’s Kitchen twenty years before the start of gentrification would change that place from working class poor Irish to young urban professional. By the time that change was happening, Rob had sold the building to a Gay Church and left the family business to teach. He was forty.

One afternoon, when Rob was in his early 20s,  McGinnity called him over to the stoop where Frank sat most afternoons and presented him with the badge. I’d like to tell you why, but I don’t remember that part of the story. What I do remember was that this small trinket was something my husband held on to through all his moves and ours. This ridiculous, undersized badge pleased him as did the stories of the neighborhood McGinnity would tell.

III.

Loss attaches itself to the things we love as if these trinkets might somehow embody the spirit of those gone. It finds expression in small objects that are easily lost and found on too-beautiful Sunday mornings when least expected.

More than three years have passed since Rob died. This morning I tucked away the badge, thinking it might be something Devon could want and feeling it gone from my hands, I broke down and cried.

Oddly, it was as if I was learning that Rob would never be coming back again.


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Sirens and Whiteness

Storm on the Rhine (M.A.Reilly, 2019)
I.

Night has come on and Basel has grown quiet. In the distant, a siren sounds—familiar across all of Europe, and my mind calls forth images from old black and white movies set in WWII. The iconic siren sounding there too.

Dev told me before we arrived that I had to be out in the city at 3 a.m.

“There’s no noise. It’s completely quiet.”

He is right. This city is quiet, save the occasional siren.


II.

Two weeks ago DNA test results were returned, identifying my genetic makeup. I expected to be 100% Irish thinking that because I was born there, I must be Irish. I learned that I am just a smudge more than 50% Irish/Welsh/Scottish. The remainder is:English, Greek, Southern Italian, and Balkan. At the top of the read out, it proclaimed I was 100% European.

Each time I come back to Europe I realize how far away I am from being European, regardless of what DNA results state. Culture is determined by lived experience, not biology.

III.

In the United States where I have lived since I was two, the myth of genetic superiority has once again reared its ugly head with the rise of #MAGA enthusiasts. Before we left to come here, a white man driving a Suburban in Oakland NJ cursed at my son because he was taking too long to exit a parking lot. In the car with him sat his white wife and two white kids. He told Devon to get the f**k out of his country and to go back to China.  Dev is Korean-American, an immigrant like me.  His words hurt my son although Dev says he really has come to expect it of white people. You do not need to be in the south of the USA to experience racism. Dev has known this since he started school.

IV.

Contrary to the rhetoric of white nationalists in the USA and Europe, there is nothing superior about any race. Thinking so leads to genocide and hasn’t history shown this.

Sirens are sounding now and I wonder if white folks are listening and more so will we have the conviction, the courage to stand up and speak out against the racism and privilege that causes so much harm?  Will we honor the obligation to speak directly to our families, friends, neighbors whose sense of privilege is acted upon daily?

Our silence is our complicity.


Thursday, April 25, 2019

75 Books about Activism and Resistance, K-12



For 3-5 Years Old 
  1. Browne, Mahogany L. (2018). Woke Baby. Illustrated by Theodore Taylor, III. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
  2. Holub, Joan. (2017). This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer. New York: Little Simon.
  3. Nagara, Innosanto. (2014). A is for Activist. New York: Triangle Square.
  4. Nagara, Innosanto. (2015). Counting on CommunityNew York: Triangle Square.
  5. Sanders, Rob. (2019). Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights. Illustrated by Jared Andrew Schorr. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  6. Weatherford, Carole Boston. (2018). Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's Dream and You. Illustrated by James E, Ransome. New York: Bloomsbury.
For 6-9 Years Old
  1. Deedy, Carmen Agra. (2017). The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. New York: Scholastic Press.
  2. Din, Anne Bar. (1999). The Story of Colors/La Historia de los Colores: A Bilingual Folktale. Illustrated by Domitilia Dominguez. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.
  3. DiSalvo-Ryan. DyAnne. (2000). Grandpa's Corner Store. New York: HarperCollins.
  4. Eggers, Dave. (2018). What Can a Citizen Do? Illustrated by Shawn Harris. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
  5. Evans, Shane W. (2016). We March. New York: SquareFish.
  6. Giovanni, Nikki. (2007). Rosa. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. New York: SquareFish.
  7. Haskins, Jim & Kathleen Benson. (2011). John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights MovementIllustrated by Benny Andrews. New York: Lee & Low Books.
  8. Heagney, Brian. (2010). ABC's of Anarchy. CreateSpace Independent Publishing.
  9. Levy, Debbie. (2016). I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark. Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  10. Marshall, Linda Elovitz. (2016). Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del arcoíris. Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri.  New York: Lee & Low Books.
  11. Morales, Yuyi. (2018). Dreamers. New York: Neal Porter Books.
  12. Nagara, Innosanto. (2017). The Wedding PortraitNew York: Triangle Square.
  13. Nelson, Kadir. (2013). Nelson Mandela. New York: Katherine Tegen Books.
  14. Rhuday-Perkovich, Olugbemisola. (2018). Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins. Illustrated by Jade Johnson. Lake Forest, CA: Seagrass Press.
  15. Reynolds, Peter. (2019). Say Something. New York: Orchard Books.
  16. Robertson, Joanne & Shirley Williams. (2019). The Water Walker / Nibi Emosaawdang. New York: Second Story Press. 
  17. Sanders, Rob. (2018). Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights. Illustrated by Jared Andrew. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  18. Seven, John & Jana Christy. (2017). We Say NO!: A Child's Guide to ResistanceSan Francisco, CA Manic D Press, Inc.
  19. Seven, John & Jana Christy. (2017). Gorilla Gardener: How To Help Nature Take Over the World. San Francisco, CA Manic D Press, Inc.
  20. Seven, John & Jana Christy. (2012). A Rule is to Break: A Child's Guide to Anarchy. San Francisco, CA Manic D Press, Inc.
  21. Tonatuiuh, Duncan. (2014). Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
  22. Verde, Susan. (2018). Hey Wall: A Story of Art and Community. Illustrated by John Parra. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  23. Weatherford, Carole Boston. (2018). Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's Dream and You. Illustrated by James E, Ransome. New York: Bloomsbury.
  24. Weatherford, Carole Boston. (2007). Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins. Illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue.  New York: Puffin.
  25. Weatherford, Carole Boston. (2006). Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. New York: Hyperion Books.
  26. Winter, Jonah. (2015). Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Illustrated by Shame W. Evans. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
  27. Yoo, Paula. (2014). Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank. Illustrated by Jamel Akib. New York: Lee & Low Books.
For 10-14 Years Old
  1. Atkins, Laura and Stan Yogi.  (2017). Fred Korematsu Speaks Up.  Illustrated by . Berkeley, CA: Heydey. 
  2. Chambers, Veronica. (2018). Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up Against Tyranny and Injustice.  New York: HarperCollins.
  3. Clinton, Chelsea. (2018). Start Now!: You Can Make a Difference. New York: Philomel.
  4. Clinton, Chelsea. (2017). It's Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going! New York: Puffin.
  5. Hoose, Philip. (2002). It's Our World Too: Young People Making a Difference and How You Can Too. New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  6. Freedman, Russell. (2016). We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler.  New York: Clarion Books.
  7. Hudson, Wade & Cheryl Willis Hudson. (2018). We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our VoicesNew York: Crown Books.
  8. Jankéliowitch, Anne. (2014). Kids Who Are Changing the World. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.
  9. Johnson, Maureen (Ed.). (2018).  How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation. New York: Wednesday Books.
  10. Kuklin,  Susan. (2017). Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. Somerset, MA: Candlewick Press. 
  11. Lewis, Barbara A. (1998). The Kid's Guide to Social Action: How to Solve the Social Problems You Choose-And Turn Creative Thinking into Positive ActionMinneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.
  12. Lewis, Barbara A. (1992). Kids with Courage: True Stories About Young People Making a Difference. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.
  13. Moore, Anne Elizabeth. (2004). Hey Kidz! Buy this Book: A Radical Primer on  Corporate and Governmental Propaganda and Activism for Short People. Illustrated by Megan Kelso. Soft Skull Press/Publishers West.
  14. Paul, Caroline. (2018). You Are Mighty: A Guide to Changing the World. New York: Bloomsbury.
  15. Rappaport, Doreen. (2012). Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
  16. Rappaport, Doreen. (2008). Nobody Gonna Turn Me 'Round: Stories and Songs of the Civil Rights Movement. Illustrated by Shane W. Evans.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
  17. Rappaport, Doreen. (2005). No More!: Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance. Illustrated by Shane W. Evans.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick
  18. Robertson, David Alexander. (2016). When We Were Alone. Illustrated by Julie Flett. Winnipeg, MB: Highwater Press.
  19. Schatz, Karen. (2018). Rad Girls Can: Stories of Bold, Brave, and Brilliant Young Women. Illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. San Francisco, CA: City LIghts.
  20. Schatz, Karen. (2016). Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History. Illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. San Francisco, CA: City LIghts.
  21. Schatz, Karen. (2015). Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! Illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. San Francisco, CA: City Lights.
  22. Shamir, Rudy and Cecile Richards. (2019). Make Trouble Young Readers Edition: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead. Illustrated by Lauren Petersen. New York: Margaret McElderry. 
  23. Sunder, Garth. (2016). Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Character: Choices That Matter Around the World. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.
  24. Sunderland, Garth. (2010). Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change: Courageous Actions Around the World. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing
  25. Thompson, Laurie Ann. (2014). Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters. New York: SimonPulse.
  26. Watson, Renee and  Ellen Hager. (2019). Watch Us Rise. New York: Bloomsbury
  27. Woodson, Jacqueline. (2018). Harbor Me. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books.
For Older Teens and Adults
  1. Abujbara, Jumaan, Boyd, Andrew, Mitchell, Dave and  Marcel Taminato. (2018). Beautiful Rising: Creative Resistance from the Global SouthToronto, ON: OR Books.
  2. Alarcón, Francisco &  Odilia Galván Rodríguez. (Eds.). (2017). Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice (Camino del Sol).   Phoenix, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
  3. Bornstein, David. (2010). Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford Press.
  4. Bornstein, David. (2007). How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition. New York: Oxford Press.
  5. Boyd, Andrew & Dave Oswald Mitchell. (2016). Beautiful Trouble: AS Toolbox for Revolution. Toronto, ON: OR Books.
  6. Brown, Adrienne Maree & Walidah Imarisha. (2015). Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. Oakland, CA: AK Press.
  7. Engler, Mark & Paul Engler. (2017). This is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the Twenty-First Century. New York: Nation Books.
  8. Halpin, Mikki. (2004). It's Your World--If You Don't Like It, Change It: Activism for Teenagers. New York: Simon Pulse.
  9. Jha,  Sandhya Rani. (2017). Transforming Communities: How People Like You are Healing Their Neighborhoods. Danvers, MA: Chalice Press.
  10. Jobin-Leeds, Greg & AgiArte. (2016). When We Fight We Win! Twenty-First Century Social Movements and the Activities that are Transforming Our World.  New York: The New Press.
  11. Lewis, Barbara A. (2007). The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect with Others (Near & Far) to Create Social ChangeMinneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.
  12. Minieri, Joan. (2007). Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize for Power in Your Community. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  13. Popovic, Srdja & Matthew Miller. (2015). Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World. New York: Random House.
  14. Styron, Alexandra. (2018). Steal This Country: A Handbook for Resistance, Persistence, and Fixing Almost Everything. New York: Viking.
  15. Wilson, Kip. (2019). White Rose. New York: Verso. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Picasso At the Fondation Beyeler

Detail from Pablo Picasso’s “Crouching Woman.”
I spent several minutes in front of this painting
feeling the heaviness of her shadowed closed eyes. 

Today I took in the Picasso exhibit at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland. I have not seen an exhibit that more moved me than this one. It was exquisite even with the teeming crowds who were viewing.  

Picasso’s “Celestina,” 1903


The exhibit features paintings and sculptures by Pablo Picasso from 1901 through 1906—his Blue and Rose periods. These works represent the emergence of a signature style that established Picasso as a figurative painter.  Although these works are interesting and moving, it was the juxtaposition of the moody, somber and melancholy monochromatic Blue period paintings (1901-1904) with the lighter subject matter and pallet of the Rose period paintings (1904-1906) that caused me to think about the young man  and his times. I seemed to have forgotten that Picasso was just a man in his young 20s when he painted these works. 

Seeing the works together and contextualized allowed me to also see the genius who was so vulnerable and so resilient. 

Both. 

Picasso’s “Acrobat and the Young Harlequin,” 1905
Towards the end of the exhibit there is a brief slide show that contextualizes Picasso’s work with the historical period. As I viewed painting after painting, I wondered how it was that he could see so differently from the historical times in which he lived. I enjoy art for many reasons. One reason though is that artists’ works often cause me to see the world differently. It is as if each painting offered a different way of seeing the ordinary. This was certainly true of this exhibit.