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Happy Birthday, Aunt Patty!

November 25, 2008 3 comments

The cake that held her first birthday candle on November 25, 1929 was probably a little smaller than it might have been due to the big stock market crash. Today, 79 years later, with the country’s economy in similar straits, the cake may be smaller too, but this time by choice rather than uncontrollable circumstance.

Today is the 80th birthday of my beloved Aunt Patty. I won’t give away her full identity — the school system she substitutes in still thinks she’s only about 50.

Aunt Patty is my real mother’s only sibling. My mother lived to be half Aunt Patty’s current age, and the rest of the family has been gone for many years. Aunt Patty stands as the matriarch, and the patriarch, of her side of my family.

Though I did not know her well for much of my life, the day came about 5 or 6 years ago when I became ready to know her. It was time. I had reached a crossroads similar to the one she had gone through at the same age. The time had come for me to reinvent myself and my life.

I showed up on her doorstep one day, unable and unready to proceed with the niceties of our reunion, and said, “Will you teach me about color?” At her own crossroads, Aunt Patty had picked up the pieces after a divorce that left her alone with two children and enrolled in art school. When she finished, she began what would be a true vocation, a real calling to be a teacher.

On that day in the spring of 2002, Aunt Patty sat me down with my oil pastels and taught me how to look for color, how to see it in the most unlikely places. As the shades of gray on the page began to fill with hue, it felt as though she had taken a clean cloth and gently started to wipe away the smudges on the lens through which I had come to view my life. And with that renewed vision, there appeared an angel in the person of my sweet Auntsie Patsy.

In this day when teachers are not held in the same regard as they once were, and our wise elders are merely thought of as elder-LY, Aunt Patty continues to heed her calling, making the trek up to the high school whenever they call, teaching such varied subjects as Latin and Wood Shop. On occasion she teaches them art, but she prefers the challenge of trying something she knows less about. She lives for those kids and in her constancy and willingness to adjust to their societal changes, she provides a compass and a promise that for as long as they will have her, she will give them all the best that she has to offer.

My own life as an artist continues to grow and she stands as my constant champion, never criticizing, always more enthusiastic than I could ever let myself be. She is teaching me what it truly means to be the artist of my own life.

There is no greater honor in my mind than to be thought of the way I think of my Aunt Patty. She is the epitome of the teacher and the reminder of the importance of taking the role of elder seriously. Though youth might make her level of dedication easier, it is actually her level of dedication that keeps her young.

Aunt Patty, on this wonderful anniversary of your entrance into this world, we honor you with all the reverence due someone who has lived her life so humbly and with such grace and dignity. I hope I grow up to be just like you….

Happy 80th Birthday, Sweet Auntsie!

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Categories: Life

Sleeping with Dobermen

November 20, 2008 6 comments

It’s not what you think, really it’s not, even though I have made subtle references to wanting to marry my dog before…

Well, let’s just go there, what the heck! Since the traditional marriage proponents insist that this will be the next step if other types of marriage are approved, I guess we should start thinking about the ramifications. (I’m starting to regain my sense of humor after the passage of Amendment 2. I promise I won’t talk about it after this…. hee hee! My fingers are crossed behind my back :D)

Let’s say that I COULD marry my dog. This presents a whole new set of complications for my current occupation: Overnight pet sitting.

My job is to stay overnight with people’s dog(s) when they go away. It’s not a big deal now because I am not yet married to Wacky Jacky the Weisenheimer Weimaraner. Technically, I guess we’re just engaged at this point while we wait on the legal battles to ratify human-pet marriages.

Last night, I shared a king-size bed with not just one dog, but two… two very large Doberman dogs. Diesel, the male, spread himself across 3/4 of the bed, while Riley, the 8 month old puppy, claimed the spot between my legs. She couldn’t have gotten closer to me if I’d given birth to her.

Recently, I slept with two rat terriers. The male likes to snuggle up on the pillow next to my head. When I told the owner that I had woken up to find his…. She said “OH! Did he stick his little p_n_s in your ear???? He does that to me all the time!”…. Yeah, thanks for the warning. I am SO wearing a hat next time.

If I were to marry my dog, would this be considered adultery?

We’ve talked about it, Jacky and I. Would I need to give up my job once we’re married, or is he evolved enough to know that my sleeping with these other dogs means nothing? I know he tries not to care, but whenever I get home from pet sitting, he gives me the once over with his nose. I can see in his eyes that it hurts him a little.

Maybe it would be better if we stayed single. We have to consider that along with the privilege of marriage comes the possibility of divorce. Do we really want to get all of our affairs tangled up? Even though he’s only two, the likelihood is that I’ll outlive him, so will it really matter if he can’t inherit my pension or social security?

I really love my guy, and maybe that’s enough. He knows I would never deliberately cheat on him with another dog and that our bed is sacred. If anyone is going to stick his little p_n_s in my ear for real, it will only be him.

Categories: Life, Pets

Spiritual Renewal

November 17, 2008 1 comment

For the second time in two weeks, my inner GPS failed me yesterday. I’m usually pretty good at directions, by lately I’m all over the place.

I set out for church (First United UCC of Tampa) in plenty of time for the early service. I had said recently to Nancy that I never like to go the same way twice, so I took another road that I assumed ran parallel. It didn’t. Then, one of my battery cables had come loose the other day after I’d replaced the battery and was apparently loose again since my electrical system kept zapping in and out, so I stopped to fix that. By the time I got near the church, the first service was half-way over so I figured I’d just scoot around a little more until the second service.

I ended up just on the other side of the Hillsborough River from the church at a little park with a boat launch. I decided to kill some time sitting in the warm sun.

The past several weeks have been a strange sort of spiritual hell. I have found myself sucked into the discussion around the passage of Proposition 8 in California which effectively rescinds the right to marriage that had been granted to same-sex couples this year. Approximately 18,000 couples had taken advantage of the new right and were now being told that it is no longer valid.

So I have been worshiping at the church of Facebook, reading for hours the tales of heartbreak and expressions of anger. It seemed like they had finally reached the top of the mountain only to have the rocks beneath their feet give way and send them tumbling back down. There are people all over California fashioning splints for their broken emotional limbs, trying to repair the damage and get strong enough to start climbing again. And then there are those standing at the bottom of the hill simply pegging rocks at the mountain as though the stone facade of bigotry can even feel them.

I decided that I needed to get back to the reality of church. I hadn’t been there in a long time and my heart lately has been feeling like it just wants to crawl out of my chest. It took getting lost on my way to the church to realize how easy it is to lose our way spiritually when these theological storms blow in.

hickox_birdAs I sat there in the little park, looking at the nubby stumps of riverside cypress trees variously lit and shadowed by their still-standing fellow trees in the early morning sunlight, I found a root that made a good seat. The water looked still, though it was constantly moving underneath. I sat down and watched as a white crane stood patiently in the shallow water waiting for a fish to swim near. Every minute or so he’d get very still and suddenly PLUNGE his beak into the water. Mostly he just came up with a mouthful of vegetation. Time after time he’d repeat the process, moving around as needed to find a better vantage point. Finally, his aim was dead on or the fish had simply given in.

I made it to church and the call to worship said the following:

One: As any parent knows, the time comes when letting go is essential for a child to move successfully into adulthood.
Many: As any partner knows, possessiveness can stifle the growth of a good relationship.
One: If there’s a risk in letting go or giving freely,
Many: There’s a greater risk in holding on to too much.
One: Jesus said, “If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it.”
Many: Possessiveness kills.
One: Touch us, O God, with your grace that we may become less fearful, and more open to a larger life.
All: We want to live, and give, more freely in the Spirit of Christ.

In the recent election, our country voted against fear. After a seemingly endless period of captivity in the name of freedom, we have finally said “NO MORE”! We are no longer willing to live under old ideas that have held many of us in bonds of complacency and apathy, thinking there was nothing we could do to change things. We had become afraid of our own government. The very presence of this new president signals a need for us to break out of what we’ve long held to be “safe” traditions and allow ourselves to entertain the idea of something new. We are trusting him, as well as ourselves, to make this change.

We are all fish in this ever-flowing, ever-changing river. There are those of us that splash around in the shallows, trying to tease the spearing bird just for the thrill of it, and others who prefer the unknown of the deeper waters where we can rest and renew ourselves before returning to the surface to challenge the omnipresent BEAK OF DEATH!!!

In my next life, I want to be the bird….

I Am A Republican

November 12, 2008 3 comments

No, not me, silly!

My 20-year-old nephew recently came out to the family as a conservative Republican. How could this have happened? Where did we go wrong? What are we going to tell the neighbors???

My family is pretty shamelessly liberal. Growing up, we learned that all people are truly created equal, that we should all be allowed to worship God (or not) in our own way. We should work hard but share what we have with others who do not have enough. Yes, we’re probably — GASP! — Socialists…

I sometimes forget that our perspective is not necessarily the right one. As much as we may rail against the religious and conservative right, they have as much right to their convictions as we do and that’s what makes America amazing. We have a system of government that allows and in fact requires a balance.

On the other side of his family, my nephew is descended from fairly recent Hungarian immigrants to America. They arrived here after the wars in Europe and come by their disdain for socialistic government quite honestly. They’ve seen that it doesn’t work when practiced exclusively. They are also staunch Catholics and their social views seem to fall along those lines.

At 6’7″ tall, it hasn’t been determined whether my nephew has stopped growing physically but it is with great satisfaction that I am watching him fill out mentally. Like many in our family, he slopped his way through high school, finally earning a GED. It was not a lack of intelligence that held him back, but more a disregard for the structure of the educational system that wouldn’t allow him to stretch his mind. He is brash, doesn’t take crap from anyone, is profoundly gifted in many areas, and is often misunderstood for his ADHD tendencies. Having grown up in NYC, he has been exposed to every kind of issue that humans encounter and he seems to understand the need for empathy in determining the direction of our country. He probably wouldn’t be caught dead in a suit and tie, and the hair on his head and face is an ever-changing collage of styles. He is streetwise and wouldn’t hesistate to cut you to ribbons in an argument, but then he’d go out and rescue a baby bird and bring it back to life with a gentle breath from his massive lungs. The boy is not to be pinned down.

I am fascinated with the blog that he recently started. In some instances he simply parrots the ideas of conservative talk-show hosts, even hurling insults at those who don’t agree with him the way the shock-jocks of politics do, but other times his rants are more controlled and I am finding myself understanding some economic concepts that I wasn’t aware of because of his increasingly well-illustrated arguments. I am as concerned as I am comforted that I am in good company in this country in my lack of knowledge.

With the election behind us and many Republicans disappointed with the outcome, I have begun to see an emergence of new young Republicans who may be the ones to reinvent the party. They are educating themselves on the economic structure of our country while also figuring out that the Republican stances on many issues like abortion and same-sex marriage have overstepped their bounds and have impinged on the basic freedoms of Americans. Similarly, the excessive elasticity of the Democrat party has stretched the opposing ideas too far in the other direction.

I believe that this generation of people, the 20-somethings coming up now, will push past the ideological inanities that keep our government from coming to the kind of consensus that would benefit all of us as equally as possible. This is not a matter of conservative or liberal ideas trumping each other. It is a matter of getting back to what the founding fathers really intended, allowing our rules to expand to accommodate the changing atmosphere of our society responsibly, and I think the next generation will be the ones to successfully engineer that growth.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THEM!

Categories: Politics

Speechless About Amendment 2, and Prop 8, and Prop 107

November 11, 2008 Leave a comment

I wasn’t going to write anything until I had something nice to say… but that might be a very long time.

I’m mad. I didn’t think I’d be so mad, but I am.

The issue of marriage never really mattered to me. I never had illusions of a white dress and my daddy walking me down the aisle.

But today, in the aftermath of the passage of amendments to the Constitutions of 3 states that ban same-sex marriage and in California actually rescind the right, I’m furious.

I’ve gotten caught up in reading various information about the bans and have even dabbled in watching videos of people who oppose same-sex marriage. Anyone who is on the fence about this issue need only watch a few of those to find out how absurd the argument is.

At times, I am able to see the bright spots, to connect with my own sense of God, but then my thoughts lead me back to the injustice of telling an entire group of people that their love is dangerous, not good enough, unholy.

The worst part is that it has robbed me of the good feelings I’d had about the change in the White House. I know that a new day is coming and enlightenment will wash across the land — though it might more resemble God flooding the planet and washing away all the crap that has accumulated of late.

On Friday, I received my copy of “A Cup of Comfort for Military Families” with my dad’s story about forgiveness in it and on this Veterans Day I am doing my best to honor those who have served us so well, even as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy remains in effect and some of those who would proudly lay down their lives for their country are still not allowed to do so openly. It’s bittersweet.

Things will return to normal soon enough, but I will never be the same…. maybe that’s a good thing?

Categories: Life, Politics

Integrity or Selfishness?

November 3, 2008 3 comments

Well, I’m about to do it again.

I’m going to talk about politics. God, I’m really starting to hate politics….

As I mentioned earlier in Why I Am Voting NO On Amendment 2 In Florida, we attended a rally to oppose the “Protection of Marriage” (Anti Gay Marriage) amendment and got all fired up. I defiantly put a sign in my yard that declares my feelings about it. I’ve talked to people in the street and have even volunteered to go talk to people in the voting lines tomorrow on election day.

Today I read an open letter from the group that originated this amendment. They have gone to great lengths and spent a lot of money to get their issue to this point. In turn, those who are opposed have also been forced to spend a great deal to fight it.

There are people on both sides of the issue who are dismayed at the amount of money being thrown around when there are so many other problems that need to be addressed. All of them are right — and all of them are wrong.

Yesterday we went to a Greyhound rescue event with our little 11-year-old buddies and their Girl Scout troop. It was one of their service projects and we had a terrific time. They’re great with the dogs after practicing so much with ours and it was wonderful to see them learning about how to give back.

When we got home, the girls came over to our house to see what we had won in the gift basket raffle, and one of them asked what the sign in the front yard was about. My response was the one that I’ve been rehearsing as I talk to people in anticipation of election day. I explained to her that, say, one of her grandparents died and they found somebody new that they became companions with, someone who could help them with medical decisions, and other important things that two people help each other with when they live together or are committed to each other in a significant way. I said that it was sort of like being married, but that they either couldn’t get married or chose not to. They still needed to be able to be legally recognized for their importance to the other person. I don’t know if my little pal understood all this or not, but I did my best.

The open letter in favor of amending the constitution to make sure that marriage is absolutely between a man and a woman so that “liberal activist judges” couldn’t interfere and decide otherwise, was chastising us opponents for shamelessly using seniors to further our agenda. The reality, they said, is that there are only about 6-8 benefits that domestic partners share compared with more than a thousand that married people have. In some of the blogs I’ve read on the issue, the supporters of the amendment have taken issue with the use of firefighters, police officers, and educators being used to promote our opposition, saying that they will remember this the next time the fire or police departments call asking for donations.

The reality is that if we talk about the real issue that this amendment is trying to apply to our Florida Constitution, the buzz words “GAY MARRIAGE” carry a whole different significance for many. The comparisons with California and Massachusetts where same-sex marriage has become possible have brought forth all sorts of scary horror stories that people are being warned against. I suppose the fact that I don’t even know what they are shows that they may not be terribly significant.

So what is this push for gay marriage really all about? I don’t actually know anyone who is so anxious about getting married. Most of us never expected it to be an option so we haven’t even entertained the idea. Do we really need the benefits of marriage? Quite honestly, I don’t even know what they are. We are legally able to draw up living wills, etc., that allow us to assign power of attorney, medical and legal, and leave our assets to each other. The only thing I think of that is a major issue is pensions. Most of them do not pass on to anyone other than a spouse.

When I place a sign in my yard, am I declaring my integrity or my selfishness? If I can’t talk about what the issue is really about, is that integrity? Is my desire to be eligible for a pension selfish? Or have the authors of this amendment truly been short-sighted in seeing the real effects this might have on a much wider population than they intended?

There is a fine line between healthy discretion and cowardice. As I have read the nasty rhetoric on the Internet, that repository of cowardly discourse, I have tried to maintain my integrity by being honest about who I am without overtly throwing it at people, trying not to hide my life when it becomes convenient or uncomfortable. But all of this makes me feel selfish, like I am constantly thinking about myself when I really want to be thinking of others.

Though we have not had “the discussion” with our neighbors, they know who we are, what we are. But on some level, unless I say it out loud, a part of me is still hiding. There are people in our society, who stand to benefit from a monumental change in our political system, who cannot hide. Their skin color, or their accent, or their dress tell the world who they are, and still they stand proud in the face of derision.

But I… I have the choice to hide who I am, and that’s what challenges my integrity. Would I be invited to participate in Girl Scout activities if I were “too” honest? I was a Girl Scout once, and according to the Girl Scout law:

I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
and to
respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.

I will leave the sign in my yard and tomorrow when I am talking to people in line, I will tell them what this amendment is really about — an attempt to bar civil rights from a group of people who were once Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, are church goers and members of their community, who would like the opportunity to continue the honesty that we were taught growing up. I wonder if this will make them more comfortable than telling them that we’re a bunch of deceptive liars who don’t have the integrity to live up to our own agendas.

Categories: Politics
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