Thank you for your service….dancing with Vince


You hear it in airports, at Starbucks, in the grocery store.  You see it on social media – especially around Veterans Day. Thank you for your service…..and most of us do what is convenient, what is easy, buy a cup of coffee or a meal, pay for their groceries.  We do what won’t smell bad or require us to show true hospitality to someone living on the edges of society.   On any given night in America  60,000 veterans go to sleep under a bridge, behind a van in a parking lot, on a park bench.  Some of this tragedy is the result of alcoholism and drug addiction, some from other mental disorders that plague our Veteran community.  Of the 1.7 Million who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 300,000 or a whopping 20% suffer from a significant mental disorder.  These illnesses include Post Traumatic Stress, Acute Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  These hidden illnesses devour men and women from the inside out.  No external scars or missing limbs, no evidence of what cripples these Vets and these are the ones who most often you will find on the street corner with a sign, or sleeping under the bridge.  As with any human problem in society, there are no simple or easy solutions.  We can shake our fists at Washington and think that if only the VA hospitals were fully funded – blame the President or the congress, or the VA.  If only when we made decisions to go to war we add the medical and mental illness costs up front and let both congress and constituents know exactly what that cost might be.  That taking care of these men and women when they come home is an up front cost of war, not something we scramble – beg and plead for after they come home.  That is only one piece of the puzzle….just as government funds alone don’t solve homelessness and hunger, or crime, or under performing schools – the multitude of organizations that serve Vets,  and religious or community organizations and especially individuals, are all part of the solution.

Personally I have bought coffee, lunch, groceries for the man or woman in uniform that I encounter in daily life.  Its a gesture and I believe it is authentic and appreciated.  More recently, I have discovered what it really means to thank a veteran for their service.  I moved into a new neighborhood and was greeted by the neighborhood “town crier”.  His name is Vince.  To protect his privacy and honor his service, I do not include his last name or the selfie we took.  I first noticed that Vince had to shuffle across the street.  It was his very own dance and he was open and honest about it.  He said he had anxiety disorders, that he had OCD – oil spots and cracks in the asphalt were particularly difficult.  He had particular pathways he was compelled to take when coming up and down the driveway.  He couldn’t pass anything over metal (fences, car doors) and rather had to go around the metal.  He had therapists and doctors but they were 20 miles away and he didn’t drive, so he relied on a shuttle that had very specific times to get to and from his appointments.  If he had anything more significant (like surgeries after a crushed pelvis), the VA hospital was nearly 60 miles.  He could not handle being on trains or buses so it could take him weeks just to get the transportation to coincide with his medical appointments.   His VA housing benefit was $800/month and he has some additional income from disability.  When he is under stress, Vince will talk endlessly and try to justify his differences by getting into extreme detail about why he acted out in a particular way, or can and can’t do particular things.  For instance, I would get Vince groceries if I was at the store and he needed to be sure that I used paper bags only, that I put the bag in the trunk a particular way and that I remove it a particular way.  It took patience to try and understand or predict what would set him off but eventually I learned Vince’s dance.

Vince lived in a small studio/guest house at the end of the street.  The front house was also occupied by tenants and the owner/landlord lived out of state.  Under the circumstances he did exceptionally well, due to his extreme intelligence and friendly attitude.  He started taking my trash cans to the curb on Mondays and putting them back on Tuesdays.  It was his way of being valuable and it could take him a very long time to do this otherwise simple task.  One day he was in the laundry room that was shared with the front tenant at his home.  Something he was putting in the washer had bugs that came crawling out and he panicked, taking off all of his clothes right there in the laundry room as the other tenant opened the door.  Needless to say, the landlord, who had been trying to get Vince out for a long time, now had a basis and a reason.  The next few months was a daily battle between Vince and the landlord who had threatened to retain the security deposit which would have been a huge loss for Vince.  At one point, he moved and sold all of his things when the VA negotiated a stay and bought him another few weeks.  Now Vince was in the in between – facing the cutoff date for moving, trying to get new VA subsidized housing which is now 80 -100 miles away, and trying to find temporary housing. These are complicated and difficult life situations for anyone – and Vince was alternately solution oriented and panic…the panic amplifying his symptoms and increasing his fear.

I came home last night and Vince was in my driveway.  I had barely stepped out of my car and he was pulling out the latest email from the landlord saying that if he vacated and turned the key into the front tenant, he could get his $1000 back.  It was clear he needed support to walk through this and his conditions were running rampant.  In my best business clothes we walked down to his small studio which was remarkably clean and empty.  He began to obsessively clean the apartment, the floors, the refrigerator – on his hands and knees with an old sock and some comet.  I took a broom and swept everything out and took pictures of each room in case the landlord ever came back to him – proof that despite his often scrambled thinking and compulsions, he is an upstanding citizen.  After an hour, we went to the front house, I gave them the key and Vince began to describe each and every tiny thing that was wrong in the house.  The woman was very kind – her husband wouldn’t look me in the eyes.  Perhaps shame lived just underneath his judgement as he had been rather cruel to Vince.  After all – his wife walked into the laundry room and found Vince naked – what’s a guy to do?  So Vince got his $1,000, the landlord can turn his studio over and get a “normal” tenant and the nice young couple in front didn’t have to worry about a mentally ill veteran living in the back house.   As I was leaving, I thanked the young woman and her husband turned to me and said, “Why does a regular woman like you hang out with a nut job like him?”

I said to him – when you see a man or woman in uniform at Starbucks, or in the airport, do you thank them for your service?  In perfect empty flag waving style, he of course – I love America.  I replied, “tonight and in the past since I moved here, my friendship with Vince, how I treat him, the insignificant things that I do to help him are how I thank him for his service.  He spent some years in the Gulf War making sure that you can love America.  The least you could do is treat him with a tiny bit of American respect.”

Volunteer at a VA hospital, when you see a homeless or mentally ill Vet, do more than give them pocket change…..engage with them, find out where and when they served, if they need a ride or help wading through the bureaucracy and multitude of programs.  Find out where you can be of service.  Don’t be afraid to reach out and touch them.  Educate yourself about what is available.

Vince is moving today into a religious based boarding house for men.  He is afraid – its in a bad neighborhood and new people, new places, new routines are really hard for him.  I will miss Vince, despite his lack of boundaries and peculiar ways.  He can quote the bible chapter and verse, he is very bright and very generous.

We can be a part of the solution.  Don’t ignore them – don’t scoff them.  Demonstrate your patriotic gratitude.  Be kind, be generous, engage…..




Can’t we all just get along?

A few months ago I delivered the “inspiration” at the local Women’s Council of Realtors business meeting.  As I began to think about where to draw my inspiration, my first thought was Teddy Roosevelt because I just love his spunk and persona.  I was all set with my Teddy speech and in the hour before the presentation I changed my mind. Susan B. Anthony – it was an inspired last minute thought.  Thank God for google and Wikipedia, I discovered more about Susan B. Anthony in an hour than I ever could have learned in school.  I wasn’t particularly interested in where she was born, or that she was a Quaker (and I really like Quakers) – how many pages her 6 volume book was.  What was compelling was that at 17 she was an abolitionist and committed to the work of change so all men would really be created and live as equals.  In the 1850’s that took unimaginable courage – especially for a woman since women were just a notch above slaves in the equal department.  Her inspiration for the suffrage movement came out of the courageous commitment to the abolition of slavery. She was at a meeting of the faithful all committed to abolition and as was typical for her, she spoke out. She was immediately silenced because women were not allowed to have a public voice.  The irony would not have been lost on her – she’s at a meeting to serve the great cause of equal rights and her plumbing was cause enough for her to be silenced.  She would not be silenced.  That moment began a crusade that was to become her life’s work, culminating in the 19th amendment to the US Constitution, appropriately titled the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.  Anthony had been dead for years by the time of its ratification.

Our current political divide seems to grow exponentially with each passing day, hatred or blind faith in the current administration, the fake debt ceiling crisis, the threatened shutdown of the government. Cable news pushes our emotional buttons, pokes at our bruises and broken hearts, and cable news producers have discovered that their “faux news” format hook the viewing public in the part of our brain that houses our emotional center. The limbic system specifically produces/targets adrenaline flow, emotion, behavior, motivation and long-term memory. The limbic system has a great deal to do with the formation of memories. Maybe this is why when we watch cable news with the will of a crack addict, or listen to charged political radio in our cars or over breakfast, we do not fathom the slow poison that impacts our brains. It’s curious to me how perfectly rational people – people I know, highly educated and well read people turn into lemmings who only know how to parrot what they just heard – with red faced, blood-pressure spiking passion. Observing the conversion of a bright, thinking individual into a closed minded, frothing at the mouth vehicle for propaganda feels like watching the spread of a virus – something that is completely out of our control. How frightening that our ability to be rational, to be a highly informed electorate seems to have evaporated into the coffers of Fox News. I do call out Fox news, not as a partisan jab, but because they seem the most egregious in their inaccurate sometimes outright false reporting of facts. They were the trail blazers of delivering purposefully slanted facts that create waves of bigotry, false outrage, confused loyalties and finally despair and apathy. Personally – I have to fight the instinct to throw my hands up in response to our political system and the news.

Back to Susan B. Anthony. In my brief review of her accomplishments, her life, her courage, and her spunk, I came to the realization that as a culture, as a people, as an individual – I have much to learn about civil disobedience. I have more to learn about the patience and tenacity necessary to effect real change. Anthony showed us how and inspired thought is converted into the will, energy and momentum needed to gather support and steer the boat in a new direction. I had a moment of this inspiration with the 2008 election. As my family and the press, ratified big and small lies repeating them until the twisted facts became co-opted into mainstream news, facts no longer mattered. 1 + 1 = 3, the earth is flat, the sky is purple, more recently, Obama is the reason for the two Ebola deaths in America, 50% of Americans are on welfare, and Benghazi really was a conspiracy of the Executive branch and humans had nothing to do with climate change. In Anthony’s time, the mainstream media (i.e. white Protestant men) thought – actually believed in their hearts that women, therefore Susan B. Anthony – didn’t have the intelligence to speak in public, the brains to own property, the right to to divorce, and of course – the right to vote. 1 + 1 =3. Today we are called to search for the spark of sanity, blow on the spark, turn that into embers and start a fire.

I hold myself accountable. I hold you accountable.

Here’ a beginning – we cannot ALL GET ALONG while we listen to the faux news on the TV machine. Turn off the cable news, stop listening to the trash talk on the radio. Read the news – even from bias newspapers. The difference is that neuroscientists have found that the brain responds to television from the limbic system (emotional) and the response from reading centers primarily in our frontal lobe. The frontal lobe which controls thought and reason. When I read a newspaper, a blog, a magazine article I respond to that information with my frontal lobe – the center of reason, thought, logic. I question the information…I want to know more….I want to understand. When I watch the TV news I question nothing, I react emotionally with my limbic system (fight or flight), I want the emotional reaction to agree with my own fears and anxiety (created by the news from the beginning) and this reaction is seared into my long-term memory because that is the limbic system’s job….to remember the threat. Its a self fulfilling circle of hatred.

Once our minds have cleared and we have stopped throwing Buicks at each other – we can get to work on the real issues. We can then tackle getting money out of politics, having 10 week election cycles, starting a third political party, term limits, reduction of the military budget (like that liberal hack Eisenhower wanted to) – taking care of our children and elderly. That’s a beginning…that is the hope.

Armageddon is exhausting

Bible studies always seemed something other women did. Nice women. Women who have been married to the same man for 20 or 30 years, who have kids in the youth ministry. Women whose taxes are paid on time, who have savings accounts and homes with small mortgages. Not women like me. I’m the “woman at the well”. Three marriages, alcoholism, entire time spans I am unable to remember due to blackouts and I have been known to curse like a sailor. I have struggled financially despite making good money. I live in a rented cottage (that I love BTW) and the last marriage damn near put me out of business in more ways than one. I am a survivor who is beginning to thrive.

The metamorphosis from survive to thrive has included an effort to deepen my faith. A few years ago, I was invited to go to a bible study with a friend of mine at a local church. My feeble attempts to be self-directed in this area had proved boring, unproductive and given me another reason to doubt that I could ever be a “good” Christian. Growing up as a Catholic, we weren’t exposed to bible studies and I had honestly never missed it. Life led me to a Presbyterian church, one where I enjoyed and learned from the sermons and I jumped in with both feet – singing in the worship band and volunteering in other areas. The church surrounded me with love and support during the very painful end of my relationship. It was in the last year of that marriage – the bitter end where I had honed my skills of walking on eggshells and keeping my mouth shut, that I began this journey of learning about my spiritual history. It’s a daunting task and I was apprehensive.

The first night arrived and I showed up early, paid the small fee for my workbook and walked into a large room with 8 or 10 tables of 10 women each. We introduced ourselves and were given the basic framework of the study for the next 12 weeks. My first was a study of David….David the hunk, the breakout star of his family, beloved of God. He was an adulterer, a murderer and he waged lots of war and was still beloved of God. Much of the book of Psalms is attributed to David so he was intense and creative. A songwriter, a singer, and beloved of God. The work of studying scripture was a challenge and required commitment and discipline. At the same time, I fell in love with the work and with David – who was so very human (and super human). In an odd way I related to him. I had my own sorted past. Mornings where I woke up out of a blackout and did the walk of shame. I created such pain in my relationships, friendships and in my family from my addictions that “I’m sorry” was just never going to be enough. With this baggage in my head the work began, the video rolled, the nice Christian ladies sat with rapt attention to this delightful Texan with blonde hair who was full of “Amen’s” and “Thank you Jesus”. My years of attending mass had not prepared me for this experience. I was grateful for the Catholic church schooling me on the Psalms and despite my snap judgment of the video, the material and the presenter, I hung in, did the homework and began to study scripture with a passion and a will.

The past three years have been a an ongoing series of video driven bible studies on James, the Psalms, Isaiah, Thessalonians….and I ended up facilitating these at my own church with a much smaller group. I have grown to love and find community with these women – looking forward to each new study was blissfully challenging until last week when our study took us to the very cusp, just the breath of the end times conversation and straight into the book of Revelation. I woke up the morning after the first serious conversation centered on Armageddon – who gets to be lifted up – who is banished, the dragons, horned beasts, the anti-Christ…I was tired – almost hungover as if I had slept with my head on a rotisserie. Up to this point I had artfully dodged this conversation for my entire adult life. As a recovering alcoholic/addict, I was convinced that the imprisoned John of Patmos was on a very scary acid trip. There are as many points of view about the end times as there are Christian denominations. I have avoided them all like the plague. I preferred to be content with not knowing – that God is big, that he knows our hearts, and that the Gospel of Grace prevails.

Being in recovery and being a Christian is often life on the razors edge. Some Christians think that everyone must be a pronounced believer in order to rise on the last day. Others think the signs of the end times have already taken place. Still others believe that the end will happen in God’s time. I happen to believe that God is the Great Creator, that he also created geology which in turn creates new land, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis. He created us with free will – which means we come to Him voluntarily (or not) and that we have the free will to heal or hurt, we have the free will to love or hate. This isn’t a theological discussion and I am not a biblical scholar – I am a scriptural rookie. The discussion that horned beasts will foretell the coming of the Anti-Christ and we will be divided by who is saved and is not feels like a spiritual caste system. This is a big discussion – but the literal interpretation of this piece of scripture seems to not do it justice OR perhaps the great author John sat in prison, starving, 92 years old and alone – penned his deepest fears, his wildest imaginings of the end of time as a reflection of his own end. My Christian sisters might be wagging a finger or praying for my salvation if they read this.

On the other hand, my friends in recovery tell me to step away from that which makes me crazy. This makes me crazy, so for the moment, and for the sake of sanity and sobriety – I’m stepping away from the End Times. I will rely on the God of my understanding. I will leave the beasts, the Anti-Christ, the horned creatures to someone else’s imagination – I will leave it all in God’s good care. As my friend Fr. Tom said….don’t read it, it makes people crazy. For this permission I am grateful.

IMHOT4U: 63 year old slightly overweight, balding unemployed man who goes to the gym twice weekly, drinks moderately (translation – several sixers a day) seeks slender, fit and toned woman 40-49 who earns over 100K/year, has no children, is beautiful with sweet breath first thing in the morning, and is ready to devote her life to a relationship filled with little pills of various colors, hard work and future alimony.  If they only told the truth – this would be IMHOT4U’s real profile.

So I sound a teensy bit bitter….but I am a single woman in my middle fifties, more Rubenesque than slender but underneath the menopausal Ruben remnants is a fit person and don’t you know that I did martial arts in my 40’s, play tennis when my shoulders aren’t frozen and if I had time like kept women I could go to the gym and be fit and slender. It begins – My mind starts to vigorously defend my curves.

I boomerang from that dark place in my head to shades of Helen Reddy – “I am woman, hear me roar”. I am a reluctant “member” of In this more self actualized place, my inclination is to walk away from the future possibility of bliss-filled mornings, sunset walks on the beach, candlelight dinners. Leave the world of online introductions and try it the old fashioned way. The bar scene doesn’t work – I don’t drink. I work long and intense hours and when I get home, the last thing I want to do is go be a prop anywhere. Church gets interesting – they are all married or really messed up and their ex spouses are in your bible study – how totally awesome is that?

It appears that the world of online dating has found yet another reluctant subscriber. Its a world of deception where there are men who say they are 57 – if they are 57, I am a slim 35. There are men who take photos of themselves in hot tubs or the swarthy shirtless shots (ewe), and others where they resemble a serial killer or an FBI wanted poster. I become alternately discouraged and terrified. In a vain attempt to take the high road, I honestly say I am 55, I am average rather than slender, I use real photos of me with and without makeup, I don’t drink and won’t join you on wine country trips….I get absolutely no response except from the shirtless 75 year olds resembling Charles Manson.

This process creates an obsession – a drive to enroll in weight watchers, cozy up to my favorite plastic surgeon and find a salon that offers just a little botox – which I have so far handily resisted. If only I had a tiny waist or had my boobs done I would be worthy. Its really a sick place that I only occasionally visit and thank God – not for long. Once in a while, a nice guy comes along which leaves me helpless and mind-tied because I am actually am a rookie at dating – and since I don’t drink, liquid courage is not an option.

I have women friends in my life who have simply given up – who defend their “NO VACANCY” signs by saying that they are happier without a life partner, that they could never get naked in front of a man again and are certain that something battery operated replaces the touch of another human being. While I understand this intellectually, I try to divorce myself from the concept that leaving my soul open to love again is an unworthy risk, an endeavor that results in desolation that I can’t bear and will cover up with “I’m FINE” (translated FUCKED UP, INSECURE, NEUROTIC AND EMOTIONAL). I see beautiful, successful women in their 50’s and 60’s that prefer their NO VACANCY SIGNS to the risk of rejection. I keep telling myself that I am in a business where rejection is a daily dish and I have very short toes – so bring it on baby. The truth is somewhere in the middle. is a visual process – and despite what the advertisements say, its about your stats and your looks first. If you get past that, bravo – you might have an opportunity for a real relationship. Given all of this contradiction, confusion, mixed motives and messages, I remain connected to the fact that I am a single woman and that out there in the universe, there might be a guy who adores my mind and loves my Rubenesque curves, someone who wants to listen to jazz on vinyl, who can encourage and be encouraged…..I will never know if on my forehead is a bitterly blinking NO VACANCY sign.

on Grief 11 years later

Before taking his light into the next room,  Joe spent his moments here protecting, healing the sick, mending the broken, embracing the addict and me.   Grief moved in to my heart and invaded my soul that day.   A decade later, still pays me the occasional call.

Fresh as yesterday, a song, a film, a book, a memory and I fill the tub with briny water heaved up until the fresh turns to a sea of sobs and snot.

Wild, gripping, wrenching, explosive, unpredictable.  Grief has no boundaries – cares little for timing.  Leaves me full and empty at the same time.

Grief  –  insists –  exhausts –  grips.  I open the ziplock bag with Joe’s scented scrubs breathe in deeply.   On special occasions I wear them to bed.  I pick up his long irrelevant cell phone and listen  – “This is Joe – leave a message” over and over and over again.

Grief demands this.

His departure shocking, sudden, unexpected – and I am left unprepared for these demands.  With indiscriminate cruelty, I am lulled into a blissful sleep only to drift back and crash into the shattered reality of my empty bed.

Grief,  the grim teacher reminds me that living is richer with this strange bedfellow.  It demands my full exposure, my naked soul,  the gut wrenching longing and ancient wailing that I share with no one for this is a most private relationship.

Always surprised by and strangely grateful for its return, more infrequent now but still insistent that I welcome wildness, without expectation and embrace full catastrophe.

The alternative is an unimaginable desert.