Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Matriot

When our President announces, garrulously, that  "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen," he threatens all of our well-being and safety while simultaneously showing his ignorance of the horrors of war. I've dragged out this old essay--written almost 15 years ago--because the words and actions of this inadequate, self-serving, fear-mongering poser compel me to take a stand. Once again. 


Matriot

I am not a patriot.  That’s what I hear on the news anyway, or read in the paper from any number of people who insist that, to be a patriot, I must support a war. I don’t support the war.  I don’t support any war.  It was bad enough to see on the news every night that my principles were being maligned as unpatriotic, but then co-workers began to look at me suspiciously as I joined in conversations at work.  Me – unpatriotic? That had never been called into question in my life, except once after a trip to France in my junior year of high school when I announced I was moving back to Montpelier as soon as possible because I liked it better there and Madame Samuelson almost failed me on the spot for being unpatriotic as well as kind of impetuous.  As it was being called into question by anonymous countrymen and women as well as people who actually know me, I decided it was time to take a look at that which I long thought was intrinsically mine – as an American.  And I found, both to my dismay and surprise that I am, in fact, not a patriot at all.  I am a matriot. 

Don’t look it up – it’s not there.  Patriot is, of course.  The Oxford-English Dictionary defines “patriot” as “one who self-sacrificingly exerts himself to promote the well being of his country; one whose ruling passion is the love of his country; one who maintains and defends his country’s freedom or rights”.  And in fact “matriotism” is in the OED as well.  “Love of one’s mother-land, alma mater” it said.  If patriot is love of fatherland, then I am a matriot - of the mother land.  I represent those softer, nurturing qualities that only a mother can get away with and, in addition, I will defend my country’s freedom and rights. I just won’t do it with a gun. What I will do is mourn every single name on the news each night that tallies another life lost.  I will turn the TV off when I can’t watch the “tank-cam” any longer or one more inch of footage of an actual firefight.  All I want to do is figure out how to bring home the brand new orphans.  My arms literally ache when I see another stretcher bearing wounded.  Because I am anti-war, it does not mean I am not supporting our troops over in Iraq – or wherever they may be sent.  I want them home – all of them. Safe, sound and mowing lawns, preparing tax returns and taking care of their own children.  But since they are there, I will pray for them and I will pray for those who stand in their way as they try and achieve their goals – invasion, destruction, death.  War for me is not a means to an end, an “operation”, a strategic plan with acceptable loss.  It is broken down into hundreds of thousands of individuals, many of them children, who will block bullets with their bodies as heads of state check daily updates from CentCom.  It is a tragic event, no matter how I look at it and I can’t help but be sad, as if every single one of those people were my own child.  There was no definition in the OED for one who cannot send off those to whom she has given birth, literally or metaphorically, to kill or be killed in a war calculated by men who will never set foot in the place.  So I made one up. Matriot – (NOT an antonym to patriot); one who self sacrificingly exerts herself to promote the well-being of her fellow countrypeople; one whose ruling passion is love. 

We live in a bounteous nation with such a wide array of natural resources available to us it is almost shameful.  There is such beauty in our endless landscapes, unbroken coastlines and glorious mountains that it seems impossible that it all exists between two shores and beholding it is literally breathtaking.  The creativity and ingenuity that is nurtured and allowed free reign in this country rockets past conventional boundaries; and our country’s great minds outdo each other in feats of genius and discovery.  No, I love my country.  I am grateful to be in America. I don’t think many of us even get that the freedoms we enjoy as a nation don’t even exist in many countries. I would protect that, definitely.  But I don’t just want to stand up and wave the flag without some substance behind it. And the best substance I can think of is to take care of those who are my responsibility. 

If I could go to Iraq right now and help by comforting, holding or soothing, I would, because I sure couldn’t help anyone by bringing a gun with me. It doesn’t have to be an American soldier – it could be a British soldier or even an Iraqi civilian.  I don’t want to feel that my loyalty to country is called into question because I don’t condone killing.  I simply feel, as a mother, that before – or even at the same time – that Congress approves nearly 80 million dollars for the war in Iraq and its aftermath, that we should make sure that our own house is in order.  That our children are fed. And that they are clothed and adequately educated.  Could it be a priority that our countrymen and women don’t freeze in the streets because they have no homes or that other countrymen and women are denied anything because of race or gender?  If 80 billion dollars is available through this government to execute a plan to wage war in another country and then rebuild that country, then couldn’t even half of that unimaginable sum of money be available for children right here in the United States? I only pose these questions because I am a mother. I have borne children of my own and I have taught hundreds of others in elementary school.  If there is one thing I believe for sure it is that children need to be looked after. And so do some others who can’t take care of themselves. I believe it is our country’s duty to take care of our own.  I believe that killing is wrong and that, as Dr. King said, “peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal”.  And I am pretty sure I believe all of this without hesitancy because I am a matriot. 

Cynthia Eastman

April 12, 2003

Friday, May 26, 2017

What She Thought


My mother died four months ago. In the ensuing months, after the funeral, we went through her things, bequeathing them to family, friends and her favorite homeless shelter. It’s not easy, going through someone’s things. Almost every sweater, every blouse held a memory. How could I give them away? I wanted to hear from her. I tried to listen: “You should give that gauzy teal scarf to Gerry. She’ll wear it.” I channeled her wishes the best I could and probably got some wrong. But you can’t live your whole life with someone without knowing a little about what she might think.

Then we had to help my dad. I don’t know how we did in helping him deal with his loss, because the more immediate decision was where he would live. He couldn’t stay alone in Florida, nor were there any real adequate solutions available--in our opinion. We packed up as much of the apartment as would fit into my house and garage and moved him over a thousand miles away from the home he shared with my mom to Connecticut.

Four months. It seems impossible that we were able to accomplish so much in such a relatively short amount of time. Now that all the big decisions have been made; remodeling, moving, donating, we’ve come to the job of living with our loss. Did we care for her the best way we could? It’s hard not to have regrets, but were there any really big ones for her? It’s just so hard to know, especially when a loved one--your parent--is taken so suddenly.

There are boxes and boxes of belongings stacked in my garage, but when I packed up my parents’ things in Florida, I bought a plastic crate for “papers.” There were tons of papers having to do with life and death: doctor’s bills, prescription statements, rehab agreements, hospice booklets. I dragged that box upstairs to my office, leaving the others for “later,” in an effort to tackle any real, burning issues first. My eyes glazed over from trying to interpret one form after another, until, in between another hospital bill and insurance statement, I saw my mother’s distinct handwriting on a folded sheet of paper. I pushed the pile aside and unfolded the paper. A full page of handwriting in pencil on the back of one of the New York Times crossword puzzles she liked to print out and solve in between reading her books. It was dated 6/22/16 and it appeared to be entitled “My Outrage. ” After those titular words, it launched into a rant about my dad’s most recent medical issue--a fall which put him in the hospital. It goes like this:

My Outrage
is with the Hospital and its [June] 7th emergency room assessment of my husband--
Here is all:
            85 year old man -
            Diabetic
            Legally blind w/
            A pacemaker
Brought into Emergency with--
            A broken shoulder bone
            and
            A shattered? burst?
            broken patella (knee cap)
            (both on the left side!)
They
Knowing
            He will need 4-6 weeks of Rehab. And they send him to Rehab care knowing all this and with no consideration of his insurance [coverage]--

I feel like an anonymous number in an anonymous system and I feel helpless

BUT

I can’t afford to expend my energy in a negative way. I need me to be upbeat, positive and creative and mostly loving, caring and kind. It’s getting hard, but that has to be my focus.

It is what it is, but it will be what you make it!

Hopefully, others will take up the cause!

I remember this time in their lives, when my dad fell and was taken to the hospital. He stayed more than three days and he was recommended to skilled care, fortunately available in their retirement community apartment building. What wasn’t fortunate was that, because he was never officially admitted to the hospital, his rehab wasn’t covered by Medicare and they had to pay out of pocket for the six weeks of rehab. Their savings account wasn’t meant for this, but they were lucky to be able to cover it. This isn’t the only time it happened. He fell again, in November, in the midst of my mom’s escalating physical decline and cancer diagnosis. They--the hospital, the doctors, the case managers--did it again: kept him for more than three days, discharged him to skilled care and left it all on my parents’ shoulders because he wasn’t officially admitted. He was there under “observation.” And observation isn’t covered. It’s a break down in the system of care that many people aren’t aware of. But the hospitals are. So are the rehab centers.

I don’t have to guess about what she thinks this time--I read it with my own eyes. I want to share her thoughts here, not for some redress or malice, but because her voice deserves to be heard. My mom's outrage doesn't have to remain hidden in a file folder among unsympathetic statements. If sharing it does nothing but help one person be aware of this glaring neglect of care in the system, then great. But even more importantly, I want to share that part of her that experienced this maltreatment and pushed it aside so she could focus on the task at hand. Anybody can point out unfairness, but it takes real strength to move forward despite it. That’s her cause. One I take up gladly by sharing this now. 
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Monday, March 20, 2017

Why We Read

I'm sharing my latest post from my monthly She Writes blog here for two reasons: The first one is because it's one of my favorites. Not because it's especially profound or well-written, but because I finally wrote about reading. The second reason is that I think this post might resonate with readers who aren't writers. Most writers are avid readers, but not all avid readers are writers. (Although, convincing people that, "yes, you can write!" is one of my pet projects. Go ahead. Ask me to help you.)

So, anyway...without further ado... My Book.



My book. We all use that phrase: I’ll get to the (laundry, dishes, litter box, job search) just as soon as I finish my book.


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My book. It doesn’t matter whose actual book it is--Patricia Cornwell, Dan Brown, Mark Twain, Jane Austen--once we pick it up, peek inside at a random page and inhale deeply as we clutch it in our hands, it becomes ours. Our next “Once upon a time…” (1) New bestsellers, old favorites…it doesn’t matter. Browsing through the bookstore is exhilarating; exploring the stacks at the library, reassuring. We make our choice and hug our book to our breast in a proprietary way, almost protective. It doesn’t matter that there are another hundred thousand books out in the world just like this one.  This one is ours.

It’s not just the thrill of having a new book to read, it’s not just reading. Once you open the cover and read the first sentence, you’ve entered into a relationship with your book. “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” (2) I mean really. How can anyone put that book down?

The relationship continues and demands your attention. We actually put things off to read our book, don’t we? Maybe even neglect some things? Like children?  I remember one time when my son was young, maybe about two years old. He had been sick with a cold and was a little less energetic than usual. He was playing contentedly on the family room floor with his blocks and I took the opportunity to read my book. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." (3) Suddenly, I realized he had gone quiet—he had fallen asleep right there in a pile of Duplos. Did I scoop him up gently and transfer him to his crib? Nope. I left him right there and greedily finished another couple of chapters of my book. In my defense, I did remove the blocks from under his cheek and cover him with a blanket.

Being in the middle of a book is like heeding a siren’s call. Glancing at it on your nightstand as you change into your PJs both excites and calms you because you know you will soon be propped up with a couple of pillows, tucked happily under the quilt and cracking open your book to the page you left behind this morning, sneaking in just a few more pages before having to go off and make a living. Stupid jobs...they get in the way of everything.

“Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant.” (4) But when you have a book with you, it’s like an anchor for your soul. We know life changes in an instant; it’s reading what others write about it that connects us to a greater understanding about our life experience. Our book gives us a tangible hand to hold, a constant friend at our side. Our books, their authors and their characters stay in our heads and guide us. I want to be cool like Kay Scarpetta, funny like Erma Bombeck, smart like Joan Didion. Even as my reading habits ebb and flow depending on how busy my life is, books occupy a place in my life that is not like any other object in the world. A book is both inanimate and animate at the same time. I loved all the books I’ve read and all the books I will read. As William Goldman writes, “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” (5) 

1. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Grimm’s Fairy Tales
2. Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups
3. Joan Didion, The Year Of Magical Thinking
4. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
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5. William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Originally posted on She Writes February 2, 2017