Ageless connections

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Lunch with a former student who just came back from Greece.  I didn’t vacation this summer, so her stories of sun-drenched beaches, hot white sands and cool Greek personalities, drifting with the politics of the EU tingle my memories of when I lived in a very different Europe.

She offers me a bright red gift bag with a big smile before our sesame bread with tzatziki, Greek salad and Greek pizza in a Mediterranean restaurant whose decor of stucco walls and music of the tzouras and outi help me feel the warmth I miss in this too-harried world.

My afternoon is caressed by her young, energetic smile and kind words of encouragement.  Meal dissipates like dreams into the Long Island humidity as we exit the restaurant and embrace with words of “see-you-soon.”   I open the bag as I wrestle into my sweltering car and find a small bottle of genuine ouzo…the non-imported kind to quench a thirst for culture and a little magnet in the shape of a sailboat to bring my dreams back to me from the Aegean Sea.  Efcharistó!

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Let it go!

waves hair

I slid in the hard plastic-padded chair ready for my pre-school hair-do. It’s been a summer of contemplation like no other full of finishing touches on a teaching life of 17 years, looking at 20 which systematically beats daily with a rhythm that leave many questioning, especially me.

“The usual? Cut, shaping, coloring,” smiled my hairdresser with a down-to-earth readiness I’ve grown to trust over the years. “I’m not sure,” I replied with a sigh. My mind ticked. I’m not sure about a lot of things. Not sure if I’m making a difference, not sure about insisting on games that are supposed to convince that learning is really taking place, but most of all, not sure if my maternal and grandmaternal instincts have a place in today’s world of “If You Got It Flaunt It” and “Just Do It”.

I watched a younger woman in the salon, fussing and flipping her hair, tossing her head from side to side and glancing out of the corner of each eye to get the best glimpse of her new “do”, smiling in the wall-to-wall mirror as if she were flirting with a sexy prospective beau. She was delightedly absorbed in her look, her new-found beauty…it was indeed all her.

“My hair goes whichever way it wants,” I grimaced, “especially in this weather.” The roller-coaster heat tightens ringlets at the nape of the neck while cowlicks and waves appear in a cut that is supposed to be straight and sleek. Go figure! Then I heard myself say, “No color. Is there a cut that can just let my hair go where it wants to?”

“Well, we can do layer and scrunch,” my hairdresser suggested pulling up several strands of hair. “The length is weighing it down.” I certainly understand being weighed down. ” Cut it to just shoulder – layered,” I ordered. For the first time in my life remembered, I had no attachment to the long length of hair I had preferred for a lifetime. I felt no grimace, fear or embarrassment in releasing inches of protective security fall on the grey linoleum floor. The shampoo girl arrived just as quickly to sweep bunches of highlighted growth into the refuse piles. My hair now revealed that mousy shade of light brown with wherever-it-pleases grey and remnants of blonde in random waves that looked like spring high tides on Jones Beach.

My hairdresser blew-dried and scrunched the layers of hair with her customary ease. I watched as the new-do waved into its own pattern and direction. Not bad, I thought. My skin paled even more so under the harsh lighting of the salon, but none of it mattered for the first time. It was me. And me is just fine.

Blessings to mothers, women everywhere!

Blessings to mothers, women everywhere!

Whether you are a mother or not, we can all celebrate the difference that mothers can make in our lives. We can, as the mother mandate expresses, be there for others in caring, in concern, in friendship, in love. We … Continue reading

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whispers to moonlight

O, Sweet ray of moonlight!

You know that no single word means anything at this moment.

Leave our robes draped on the tile.  They have no use, after all.

A false caress hisses over each pore promising lies of affection.

Hand against skin grabs its fill – engulfs, possesses, more.

My eyes wide beg for your light as it bathes me in your fusion

and I remain suspended, broken, less.

Yet emotion is expected,

and so feigned,

in this numb emptiness of every moment in his indifference.

001.

one string, many beads…

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Like most teachers and mothers getting ready to go back to school, I have decided to radically clean my office-study space before next Tuesday.   The problem always seems to settle around worksheets or valuable information sheets that I have kept in piles, some neat, some less-so, waiting for the day of decision.   Do I save, toss or recycle?  Old issues of education, cooking and fashion magazines sit disheveled, waiting for the verdict.  My guess is that most will be tied into neat bundles and put out for county “recycling”, yet in a far away land, in Uganda, women are taking these magazines to meticulously and painstakingly create beads for trendy, fashion jewelry and their own personal ticket out of poverty.

Bead for Life is an organization which empowers women in Uganda through their creation of beads from cutting, rolling and varnishing strips of magazines and paper to refine into brightly colored beads.  Groups for schools, community service, special interest or houses of worship have the option to buy beads in bulk and make their own creations or buy bracelets, necklaces already made and ready to wear.

http://www.beadforlife.org/en/frontpage/us

Teachers, leaders of community service groups or those who are just interested in contributing by buying the jewelry, having a jewelry party, or leading others to bead, create and give at the same time have a number of options.  It’s about finding an occasion to do something, however little and seemingly insignificant, and making a difference.   Truly a chance for kharma to spread from their hands to yours and back to theirs again!

Things take time..

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Taking time to cook healthy food, conversing with family and friends, losing weight, developing a new skill or learning a new language, whatever accomplishment you might be able to imagine, more than likely, it took some time to master. Today August 26th, we remember Women’s Equality Day and personally, I wonder about that term “equality” and its meaning for people.

My mother was born in 1920, when the vote had just been given to women in the United States. Yet, the formation of the organization, the National Women’s Suffrage Association, begun in 1869 by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who tirelessly demonstrated and organized, proves that today’s realities are indeed accomplished through yesterday’s blood, sweat and tears. Women have a gift, sometimes miraculous, which is seemingly less appreciated by popular culture and media. It is in danger of being trivialized and eradicated. As nurturers, women have had a key role in understanding and resolving conflict, in families, with friends and even with strangers. These qualities are furthered and reflected in a life pondered and activated with strength in the realization that their role is the bond that can glue families and situations together or split and scatter the same to the far corners of the universe. For the vote, it took more than fifty years to have women just be able to legally voice an option for legislators and leaders. What made women considered lesser for those in power? What creates the obstacles faced today, politically, socially, economically for many groups? Conjecture may say it is an intrinsic strength that needs to be carefully considered, honed and expressed with a level of unity, discernment and sagacity.

Women were always the first with whom Christ confided, spoke, appeared, revealed – there is a deep significance, often unnoticed, in this Biblical verity. But women choosing to follow less nurturing pathways have also been the demise of many a sitution throughout history. Awaken the consciousness of women about the impact they can have, give them the empowerment without falling prey to the lures of popular culture dissuading them from their very nature of nurture and I wonder what changes could take place in our world! I’m not sure that conflicts would result in interminable wars and senseless, continued deaths. I’m not sure that mistrust, distrust and stealth operations would be the common practice among governments. I’m not sure that countries would have no drinking water or enough food, resources, gainful employment, a civil standard of life for their own people.

Women, nurturers, teachers, nurses, social workers, civil public servants of the people, in many states of this country are obliged to act in case of conflict…report, intervene in some way, or risk losing their state license! These same people are trained for conflict resolution, rather than aggressive or offensive intervention. Why are leaders not held to the same standard? Much to ponder….

So on this day of Women’s Equality, my wish for all sisters worldwide is that they truly and deeply understand the value of their being, that they be cognizant of their actions, taking moments to reflect with minds, hearts and souls and realize that perseverance, unity and yes, time will realize the benefits of their power in action.

All together from different lands

It’s only fitting to begin the new 2013 academic year with a fresh view of potential encounters.  This academic year will be a different kind of journey, as these pages will witness.  We will welcome children and families newly emigrated to this land of opportunity.  As my grandparents, they have struggles untold which have encouraged them to keep silent for many reasons.  In the culture of my grandparents’ time, it was not her place as woman and wife to speak too often or too boldly.  Still today, many know “their place” and are reminded by society how much or how little they are welcome.  There are many, different languages, different customs,  uncommon “looks” from many who have settled before.  And isn’t it strange how quickly people forget their places of origin and their customs.

I am certain that my grandmother, as a very young woman with a young child, vowed that she would never forget her land, her heritage, traditions, family and values, even though she was warned to be reserved, to fit in, to not attract too much attention in this land of freedom.  She was thankful to be a wife and mother, appreciative of the hard work and difficulties her husband had to endure to support and sustain the family.  It was her role to quietly support him, raise the children and take care of everything to do with the household.  In Northern Italy, she had worked in the risaie, hours of back-breaking field work in rice-fields.  Her father was a landowner, and the entire family, brother AND sisters, sacrificed and worked in those fields to harvest and sell rice.  They knew how to plant, cultivate, raise crops, harvest them and feed their family. They were not wealthy, but managed to have money so that the girls were sent to Catholic school to learn reading, writing, and dexterity in the fine art of sewing, knitting, crocheting.  My grandmother’s special expertise was creating men’s shirts from pure cotton and crisp linens.    Their lives were difficult, fraught with labor and sacrifice, but they felt grateful for the blessings they were given and worked diligently, with pride and a sense that all labors were noble efforts of God-given strengths.  Sacrifice and work were necessary and ennobling.   This is how I remember how my grandmother embodied her life in Italy and in this land of freedom.

immigrant family

Her journey is where I can start, precisely because a large part of my upbringing came from her.  Her fortitude shaped my thoughts, of yesterday and today.  It gently sculpts how I, as teacher and adult-in-charge for seven schoolday hours and beyond, see the children in schools and wonder about their lives, the questions they have, the dilemmas of changes, across cultures, across time, across borders, minds and hearts.  Some will understand because of where they are in time and that which they have experienced, either through their own cultural catharsis or the stories of their ancestors fondly recalled as children.   Some might frown, disagree, deny and refuse to follow, mainly because their experience and upbringing have been restricted to a narrow view of life and living.

Still I wonder when will we as a people, as a country of immigrants, realize that we strive, we envision and question as the stories are gingerly woven into our own very personal views of history, but we control really quite little in our lives.  Once we realize that there is a something very strong, but intangible, beyond ourselves, we may begin to tap into that strength and start to connect to an uncontainable power, beyond steel trap-doors of closed minds and bigotry where the land of freedom possibly and truly begins.

Listen to the silence and the voices within

Women have been blessed with a number of gifts from above that are not easily recognized by the world in which we live.  As mothers, sisters, grandmothers, daughters, aunts, and friends, we harbor a sense of intuition, a desire in faithfulness and hope that many if not most of the established hierarchy negate, deny or possibly fear.    Nurturing, resolving conflicts with the preferred absence of anger or violence, listening deeply to words with emotions and thoughts of the heart – these have been hallmarks of the depth women carry throughout history.  These are the whispers passed down from generations of women through all our ancestries, much of which is ignored by the noise made by all the confusion in our modern world.

Let me take a moment to take a knife to the onion.  With an ever-so-sharp blade, our lives seek to razor through to the bottom, leaving many rings scattered on the cutting board, and often with accompanying tears that spill alongside.  But there is a powerful message in each of the rings, each of the voices that validate the visions of women in our everyday lives.  Visions of simple actions and empowering thoughts that, like an onion, contain concentric rings that may hold strong power once released.

Noni’s presence as a mother, a grandmother, an immigrant from Northern Italy, her whole life was one of quiet presence.  She accepted that which she was given, counted her blessings and kept her place actively performing the tasks her culture, her heritage, her duties expected of her,  When in doubt, she reached in her apron pocket for her black leather breviary, which I still keep in the hallows of my white nightstand by my bed.  Its pages are frail, brittle, but highlighted with gold leaf – much like our own lives.  We are frail, brittle, but there is a golden aura for those who seek that surrounds our lives with hope, with faith, with love, amid the confusion and fear.  Noni rarely strayed beyond the confines her life demanded of her, yet her joys and challenges could have easily been perceived through her tears, her sacrifices, and in her silence.

We may not know what our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters and friends have thought or are thinking, but we owe it to the collective to imagine, to dream and to support each other in our choices, in silence, in voice.

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