Posts tagged different
I don’t get this one even more.
I mean, I get it – but I don’t see why it happens.
As a country, we are collectively mourning the loss of five Dallas Police Officers. FIVE… In a matter of minutes, FIVE lives gone, children without fathers, wives without husbands, mothers without sons.
Then we take sides…..
This is terrorism. The gunman wanted to fulfill an agenda he had, radical or fanatical thinking behind it – take your pick. And he was trained by the structure present in our country’s military. Homegrown, by definition.
You hear all sides – it wasn’t justified, it wasn’t right, it was justified by not right, it was justified and right – all positions on the spectrum. Liberals cite the gun laws, Conservatives cite gun laws. Democrats differ from Republican thinking, Republicans differ from Democrats.
And in this wonderful age of social media, we can be scrutinized about our beliefs in a two word post on Facebook or in less than 140 characters on Twitter. People hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see. They believe who they choose to listen to and dismiss those who do not agree with them.
I have lived in New York all my life. I take pride in the fact that if someone needs a ride or directions to get somewhere, I can provide assistance. I can tell you the “ins and outs” of travelling in the five boroughs of our city because I have driven almost every section of every borough over the twenty-years that I ran a balloon delivery business.
Yesterday, I read a post from someone who is married to a newly hired police officer in another part of the country. She wrote about the sacrifice her husband is making – “so willing to sacrifice so much for people who care so little”.
Want to know what’s wrong with police training? Their home lives? Their way of thinking? Read that last part of the last sentence in the previous paragraph. Thankfully, most police officers truly believe in the serve and protect and that belief being applied to everyone they come into contact with. But those who are of the mentality that “people care so little” have no business putting the uniform on. You are charged with serving those you look like, those you do not look like, those who dress, pray and eat like you or not. When we wake up to that reality, we will have to address the broader issue of eradicating racism from every police department’s employee – young and old, newly hired or near retirement.
Today I was challenged by someone I am friends with on Facebook, to “take a walk in Brownsville or Bed-Stuy after dark tonight” – the challenge concluded by telling me to let the person “know how it goes”. This particular person and I have minimal contact with each other – a distant relative, the kind you may see at weddings and funerals, but not much more. We were raised in the same neighborhood as children but we apparently see the world from two hugely different perspectives.
Truth is, I have gone through Brownsville and Bed-Stuy, East New York and Coney Island; I have made deliveries in these areas as well as Bensonhurst, Mill Basin, Bayside and Astoria. I assume that the “challenger” (as we will refer to her) wanted me to agree with her that those neighborhoods that she cited were “dangerous”. Well, maybe they are – as all the rest of the neighborhoods in any area could be – at night, in broad daylight, at dawn.
The insinuations that were prompted by a post are revolting. People in a more privileged position can draw all the conclusions they want. Walk the walk, as they say; put your money where your mouth is.
I have worked with the finest people in this gigantic city – and believe you me, they are not always found in the best of positions, circumstances, or neighborhoods. I have decorated street fairs in Brownsville, grand openings in Bed-Stuy; I have brought my staff to places in every borough that may have made others look around nervously; we have been at all-day events in Corona. Our shop was in Coney Island for 19 years and we opened and closed all hours of the day and night. You may ask if we ever had problems. The answer is yes some issues but not something that would have chased us from wherever we were. The only think that ever scared us was Superstorm Sandy and even then, with every single property in Coney Island being affected, neighbors who walked passed our store in the days after the storm, asked if we were okay, if they could help and would we be back in operation.
Social media – where you can post something and it lives forever. The internet? Put it up – take it down, the web has the last laugh. If someone posts something you do not agree with, let them know; if a comment is biased, object. Do not stand by and look the other way – your voice is as important as theirs. Use your voice!
The word that will carry us forward is EMPATHY. Know what its like to be someone else…..
The title of this post took quite a number of revisions. “The Strangest Strangers: Becoming Part of a Family”, “Belonging and not…”, “You’re Not One of Us”.
Truth be told, I have been mind-boggled by things I have heard over the last thirty something years of my life. If only people could understand how their words could cut so deep that forgetting is not possible, forgiving may never occur.
Chosen to Belong
I was adopted through Catholic Charities from Angel Guardian Home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York in May of 1966. This was a time before Roe v. Wade, open adoptions and all the other options available to people who wanted children but could not have them on their own. For background, I was the only offspring of a union between my eighteen year-old birth mother and my thirty-six year old birth father. I like to make up a soap opera like story of how that union occurred, but that is fodder for another post sometime in the future. The nuns at the Angel Guardian Home put me into the arms of the only woman I know as my mother on April 26, 1966 – “the happiest day of my life” as she often tells me. Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and friends welcomed me home that day – the family that embraced me, loved me, shared in my triumphs and consoled me in my losses.
A piece of paper and a judge’s swoop of the pen and I belonged to my parents. The three of us made a cute little family; my extended family always a strong and active presence in my life. We lived in a two-family house – my parents and I upstairs and my mother’s parents downstairs. We saw each other everyday – always a kiss, a hug and a playful tap from “Pop”.
My grandmother passed away one night in 1973, in the house. My other grandmother was babysitting me upstairs as my mother was visiting my father who was in the hospital. “My wife, she no move” was the cry from Pop and with that, one member of our household was gone. Her suffering from Alzheimer’s was over. Pop would live many more years alone but filled his time sitting outside, talking to anyone who would pass, reading his Italian newspaper and listening to the Italian radio station. There had been arguing between my mom and her brother and sister over their parents and the long-term care they both needed. But what needed to be done was done as far as my grandparents were concerned and who was right and who was wrong is now irrelevant.
Pulling the Rug Out
But one question posed to my grandfather by his son threw my very existence in my family into a tailspin. My mother, middle child stayed home to care for her aging parents. Her sister and brother left most of the decisions and day-to-day care to my mom because of her proximity. As my grandfather reasoned, each of his children had their homes; my mother did not so he would leave his house to my mother. My uncle was told this by his father and reacted strongly; one question – “So Jane gets the house?”
His own daughters were outraged and told him so right as the words came out of his mouth. My mothers was stunned and as we, the kids, were told to get out of the room, someone said, “Because she’s not blood?”. I know who said it and would rather leave it as ambiguous as stated. Regardless, that question/statement had devastating consequences to an already fragile psyche.
I have had friends who ask me about being adopted. I tell them being adopted at such a young age, I know only my parents and my family – there is no feeling associated with “being adopted” for me. But there is an increasing sensitivity I feel towards comments being made toward individuals and their “belonging” in their families. To say that a person who has spent years, decades even a lifetime being “part” of a family is “not really part of the family” or even calling them “a stranger” is completely not in the realm of understanding.
There comes a point in time when you really have to wonder about the people you surround yourself with. Although they may seem quite cordial and sincere on the outside, sometimes there are underlying issues that confuse event the most seasoned adult. I have heard that young children entering into a new family with their divorced and remarrying parent are “not really so-and-so’s kid”. Children adopted at younger ages than I was are “not really their kid”. Family friends who have been part of people’s lives for years, even decades are told “they are not family”. I have even heard some call their “married-in” relatives “nothing more than strangers”.
Are we not all strangers to each other in the beginning of any relationship?
Are you Serious? Then Get This Straight
A newborn is a stranger to their mother – the woman who carried that baby for nine months. You are not in their minds, however impressionable they may be – you cannot know what is going on in there. A woman meeting a new friend. A man meeting a girl he would one day would like to make his wife. Someone you pass on the street. The person on line in the grocery store. Yet these encounters with strangers lead to some of the most intense and lasting relationships we will ever have in our lives. A child and parent, best friends, a married couple, a neighbor, an acquaintance. At whatever level, these people enter our lives and it is a choice we must make as to the depth that relationship takes.
I know many children whose parents remarried after many years and created blended families. Father is father to each one of the children in that family, mother is mother. Some of those semi-adopted children (some are indeed adopted by their step-parent, others are not) actually become more of the family oriented member of the family, treasuring the relationships he or she was given a second chance at. Adoption makes families where there were none. There are plenty of people we all know that are part of a family by birth-rite not by anything greater than that. That “natural born” status should never give anyone the power to diminish another’s standing in their’s or anyone else’s family. I dare someone to state that an infant would know any difference in belonging, be he or she adopted or birthed into the family they wind up in. Whether your husband-wife, wife-wife, or husband-husband relationship has children as part of it or not is unimportant – that “significant other” is just that “SIGNIFICANT” to that person; relevant, significant, meaningful, thought of, their one and only.
And everyone should really be on that same page – whether it is a step-child, a half-sister or brother, a friend, an integral part of a family for decades, your life partner – those that surround you should be respectful of you and that person and the relationship you feel is important.
The title will hopefully make you curious. I want it that way.
An ordinary woman with an extraordinary life – no, not someone you would know – not famous, no movie star, not a political figure. This woman was a daughter, a sister, a wife, mother, aunt and godmother – friend to many, mentor to some, protector and as my cousin said, even part “Super Hero”.
Last week, my family lost one of its more colorful characters. My Aunt Flo – Florence Sullivan. Born in Long Island City, Queens, New York, a resident of Dumont, Ringwood and finally Brick, New Jersey – not a world traveler, Ivy League graduate but one of the smartest, fiesty and formidible woman I have had the honor to have in my life.
I could make a list of stories: my godmother, held me in her arms at my “blessing”; cared for me on many a weekend/week long trip; summer vacation in Ship Bottom, New Jersey; at every life event – communion, confirmation, graduations, business opening; deep conversations as I got older; trips to Pennsylvania to visit with my parents at their campground retreat; holidays and other days to meet up and spend time as our family often did. So many things and times that left indelible marks on me as I grew up.
My mother’s family has been through this battle before – before “Alzheimer’s” was the unfortunate diagnosis of the week, my grandmother suffered from memory lapses, then loss, wandering back to her old neighborhood, going missing and making for frantic searches which I remember as a 5 year old. She was “just getting old” and “this is what happens” were the things I remember hearing about my grandmother. She passed in 1973 – her other grandchildren, my cousins had been spared most of the gorey details of how she could no longer communicate, becoming bed ridden, every need to be tended to by my grandfather and mom – even an “opportuntity” for me at the age of 6 to give my grandmother dinner – baby food as she could no longer chew or swallow. Now you may think that that is not something a 6 year old should be doing – you can have your opinion. Because she could not speak, she would grab onto you when she became cognizant of who you were and held on with all her might. I am not saying it was a wonderful experience but, as they say, it built character. My grandmother was lovingly cared for by her husband until the night she passed, at home, peacefully.
My aunt, my mother’s sister, my grandmother’s daughter was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago. I watched again as a woman who was tenacious, fiesty, vocal, and at times, demanding and strict, slipped away from our world, with only brief, fleeting moments of recognition. This time, it wasn’t just “this is what happens when someone gets old” – it was clinical, medical and diagnosed – ALZHEIMER’S. Even the word sounds like a throw back to some Gestapo torture briefly hinted on in a World War II documentary. Same things… same robbed life.
Retirement should have given rise to years of rest, travel, grandchildren and walks on the beach. But this was not to be for my aunt. Her daughter, Colleen, spoke at the funeral Mass yesterday and paid homage to everything her mother had done for her. Aunt Flo had done so much for her son, Patrick and her daughter, Debbie after their father’s untimely death in the early 60’s. She began a new life with my Uncle Mort and as he told me yesterday, “saved him”. He loved her more than any of us ever realized; as Colleen said, he cared for her through every step of this horrible disease – at home, by her side, where she passed.
Over the last two days, I have heard all the same words used to describe my grandmother and now, my aunt. Their caregivers, their husbands, did more than they ever thought they could.
I don’t know who has it worse – the person who losses the ability to know people, things, events and more or the people who have to watch the long fading and try desparately to hold on to every piece of normalcy. I had to apologize to my cousins as I did not form a tough skin from my experiences as a child – I should have been able to tolerate the progression and lend more of a helpful hand in the process, but I could not bear to see such a strong figure in my life fade away. I am sorry for that. Colleen asked me when it gets better – my dad had passed away in 2007, so maybe she thought I had some wonderful words of wisdom on this matter. I wish that I did. All I could definitely say to her was that it “gets different” – once you start with your normal routine, get back into the flow of your regular life, you’ll remember but it will be different. Enjoy people, places, things when they present themselves to you – be open and spontaneous – treasure the family that you’re born into, the friends you let into your life and every experience that comes your way. Whatever it is, make the best of it.
I keep with me my memories – good, old and recent – a blanket, crocheted by my aunt years ago even though she could barely hold the needles as arthritis and Carpal Tunnel made it a true “labor of love”. My last visit with her, when she saw me and immediately put her hand to her opened mouth and said, “I can’t believe your here!” with the biggest smile ever. She extended her hand, grabbed mine and held on ever so tightly – I felt the same way I used to when my grandmother would do that but I came to the realization that the tight hold was the hug they could no longer give – holding on to what my grandmother, now my aunt, remembered that they loved.
My aunt gave me the best gift she could that day as she allowed me to do something I had not done in over 40 years – I sat right next to my aunt, held her hand and told her that I loved her. She looked away sheepishly, turned back, then smiled with a tear in her eye. She remembered.