“Progress Is Our Most Important Product”*


[Russian submarine from the Cold War era, Maritime Museum, San Diego, CA]

Saturday I spent some time at FirstBuild, a state-of-the-art machine shop cum high-tech appliance incubator in Louisville, KY run by GE. Talk about a layered experience!

A little background: My beloved father, who died in 2010, worked for GE for many years in war time and peace time, inventing both the butter conditioner (the little box in your refrigerator that keeps butter at its optimum temperature) and the computer used as a machine-gun defense system for the B-29; “the plane that won World War II.” He also sold GE television equipment in the earliest days of TV and as a “Cold War warrior” (and self-labeled “merchant of death”) negotiated contacts between GE and the military. So wandering through GE factories or TV studios some random Saturday to stare, stupefied, at work benches and machinery and dials and gauges and fancy, mysterious equipment, carefully stepping over jumbles of wires as my father excitedly explained The Latest Thing/GE’s newest project was something I did as a kid.

More context: A couple of weeks before, I’d given a talk re Way Opens and my own experiences during the Civil Rights Era to a group of bright, tender middle-school students at Cambridge Friends School. Who were “heavy,” as their teacher put it, Freddie Gray’s death much on their minds. Their collective heaviness stays with me.

So there I was, gobstruck by the cool, nifty appliances in FirstBuild’s showroom and my first look at a 3-D printer and, knowing how much my dad would have loved every single moment, desperately missing him. And aware that despite all this progress, just blocks away people of color were living under pretty much the same conditions as they had during the Jim Crow era.

See what I mean by layered?

* GE’s slogan during the 50s and 60s, i.e. the Civil Rights and Cold War era.


“They Are Our Kids”



[19th Century Young Girl’s Grave, El Campo Santo, San Diego, CA, soon after Dia de Muertos, 2014]

Don’t get me wrong: I love my daughters, I love my grandchildren. I loved sitting in my Quaker meeting this morning watching Meeting children happily search for Easter eggs outside. I love Christmas, I love birthdays, I love making any child happy by buying just the right gift.

Here’s what I don’t love: The disparity between children like my grandchildren and those happy children I watched this morning and the poor children of this country. As a recent “New Yorker” article put it: The American dream is in crisis, [Robert Putnam, author of Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis] argues, because Americans used to care about other people’s kids and now they only care about their own kids. But, he writes, “America’s poor kids do belong to us and we to them. They are our kids.” 

Here’s what deeply moves me: That on October 31, 2014, someone placed those plastic necklaces and those two dolls on the grave pictured above. A Mexican-American child decorated that child’s grave for Dia de Muertos, I’m guessing.  She swept the dirt, she arranged those bricks as best she could, she threw away—God knows what that child discovered in that gritty, surrounded-by-bars-and restaurants cemetery in the heart of San Diego’s Old Town. That generous child is very likely one of those “poor kids” Putnam wrote about.

My kid. Our kid.


That seventh bee sting



[Side-yard path formerly used as a shortcut until the homeowners erected that fence]

Last night in the moonlight I shoveled a path from my kitchen door to a birdfeeder hanging from a wrought-iron hook attached to our deck railing. And then, beneath the quiet magic of an almost full moon, Jupiter beside it, I filled the feeder with the best birdseed Target sells so, first thing this morning, my neighborhood’s sparrows and juncoes and house finches and cardinals and blue jays and, yes, pesky squirrels (when I’m not keeping watch), could have breakfast.

After the first blizzard dumped two feet of snow, I’d waded through my backyard’s drifts and climbed up the snow-covered steps  to the deck and shoveled the first, such path. But after our second storm and another foot or so, the snow was just too deep to wade through, again. Opening the kitchen door with all that new snow drifted against it? It would only open an inch or so. So I gave up.

Yesterday had been a hard day; I’m going to respect the privacy of a family member and just leave it at that. And just getting around, going about my usual, day-to-day life in a densely populated community under more than three feet of snow? Very challenging, very tiring. (Thank God the Patriots won or folks would be even more cranky!)

So, worn out and blue, I’d opted to lie on the couch under a thick quilt and read.

But then, something pulled me off the couch and into a kitchen drawer to find, yes! A metal, broad-bladed spatula, i.e. a tiny shovel. “I can dig a bit at a time until I can get the door to open wide enough to get a shovel out there,” I reasoned. And I did, scooping the “shoveled” snow into a bowl and dumping it into the sink.

There’s a theory concerning poverty that says that being poor, being oppressed, is like being stung multiple times by bees. A stung person can handle the first two or three stings, can treat the pain, but when the numbers climb—let’s say that sixth bee sting—he or she just gives up. Endures. Tries to ignore painful reality.

And some say that this is true—but not a universal phenomenon. One article I read discussed empowerment as a variable, for example.

First acknowledging that in a very deep way I will never know what it means to be poor and oppressed, I wish to simply acknowledge the power of moonlight. And grace. (Which is all to say, mystery, right?) I do not completely understand what compelled me to do something I, exhausted and depressed, had given up on but am so very, very grateful I could.

So are all the sparrows and juncoes and . . .



What do you see?


This past rainy, rainy Sunday, I had the great joy to visit the Brooklyn Museum in the company of three daughters, three sons-in-law, three grandchildren and one husband. Keeping that large a crowd, two under the age of six, together, engaged and not touching the art–sometimes the adults were as bad as the kids—was a challenge but (mostly) we did fine.

This was my second visit to the museum; I was eager to again experience two features of the museum: that it attracts a diverse crowd (sadly, most of my museum experiences in Boston have been pretty much Whites Only) and, oh, yes, Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party,” pictured above. (Immediately after taking that picture I was gently scolded for using a flash. Oops.)

My Brooklyn-based daughter now takes school-aged kids through the museum every week so at some stops along the way, she would ask family members open-ended questions to further help us to appreciate what we were seeing.

So, inspired by her There Are NO Right or Wrong Answers probing, here are a couple of questions about the above photograph:

What do you notice about the plates?

Why do you suppose, of all thirty-nine places at this dinner party, the photographer chose to feature Virginia Woolf and Georgia O’Keeffe?

Why do you suppose the artists who made the embroidered runners chose those particular colors for those particular women?

Who do you see in the background? Why do you think that woman is carrying that child?



Bit by Bit


[Sign in a plumbing-supply store with a Christmas tree and presents in its front window]


Before Christmas, my husband, grand-daughter and I traded germs ( our two-year-old grand-daughter generously shares an unlimited supply of colds and other ailments from daycare with us) which, filled with Christmas Spirit, I fended off. But those germs finally won—and so I spent yesterday under a thick quilt with Olive Kitteridge. (And Kleenex and cough drops and tall glasses of orange juice.)

This morning, still pretty low-energy, still pretty sick, as I waited for my coffee water to boil I found myself wiping down our utterly filthy kitchen stove. “Ahh, ” I thought, watching myself clean up some of the past week’s spillage we’ve been too busy to attend to, “here’s a tiny bit of my Real Life breaking through my exhaustion,” like the hyacinths and paperwhites in my living room just beginning to reveal themselves. (The bulbs were gifts from a dear friend and a dear daughter.)

Low energy, pretty sick, it’s remarkably easy to think about the past week and to only remember how exhausting Christmas is! All that work! All that family drama! All those delicious holiday treats that left me worn out and debilitated once the sugar-buzz wore off! All that surrounding, worldly tension between Hopeful, Light-Filled, Peace-Loving, Joyful versus Cynical, Violent, Bah Humbug.

How comforting (Get it?) to remember as I lie under that thick quilt that Hope and Light and Peace  and Joy are within me—within all of us—no matter what the season or how we feel. Indeed, like those mysterious and unprepossessing bulbs, these gifts of the Spirit require only something to cling to and a little water:

Last night, as I was sleeping,

I dreamt—marvelous error!

That a spring was breaking out in my heart.

I said: Along which secret aqueduct,

Oh water, are you coming to me,

Water of a new life

That I have never drunk?

                                   [from “Times Alone” by Antonio Machado]




Through A Glass Darkly


[The Bridgeport, Connecticut train station* through a dirty window]

Okay, I admit it: I only really clean house when company’s coming—and then I go crazy! (Although this Sunday, I did make peace with spiders. Or, rather, I found inner peace when I finally admitted that Spiders Will Always Win! NO Matter What!) So after the (temporary) cobweb removal and the dusting and vacuuming and scrubbing the floor but not yet exhausted, I gave my surroundings a critical, queenly inspection—and noticed late afternoon sunlight shining through a filthy front window. Quelle horreur! So grabbed the Windex and some paper towels and went onto my front porch to spritz.

Such greasy, black grime!  It reminded me of childhood  visits to my Bridgeport, CT grandmother and how within minutes of playing outside her house I’d look like I’d been rolling around in soot.

When I told my granddaughter about my filthy Bridgeport visits recently, she’d looked at me blankly. “Why was it so dirty outside?” “Because in those days, Bridgeport had big factories with big smokestacks that let out lots of pollution into the air.” Another blank look! (Maybe if I’d used the word “belched” instead of “let out” she would have gotten it. But maybe not.)

Sunday I gave some thought to the source of that grime and had to acknowledge—not for the first time but somehow freshly Real— that much of it comes from Somerville’s car-exhaust-filled air. I had to again acknowledge my home town’s obscene asthma and cancer rates (which, when all the other variables are accounted for, like smoking, can only be explained by Somerville’s proximity to Interstate 93 and its busy, congested streets.). And, yeah, even spent a moment or two contemplating the closed, rusting factories of Bridgeport and what happened to that community and its families when all those belching factories padlocked their gates. (It’s complicated, right?)

My Bridgeport grandmother, Lil, died from lung cancer. (She also smoked like Bridgeport factory.) Her great-great granddaughter, Lilian, is two. Anchored by these two, precious Lils, acknowledging the Bridgeport factory workers and their families and  the present-day Somerville families struggling with health issues related to air quality I ask, “What am I called to do?”

* My mother and father met in another/earlier Bridgeport, CT train station in 1941.





“Does anyone ever realize life?”


As I overhead a Niagara-on-the-Lake resident remark in July, at the height of her Canadian resort-town’s summer season: “Any day now we’ll all be talking about the polar vortex again!”


This glorious summer is coming to an end. Farmers’ market peaches are mealy and sad, now, for instance. Did I truly appreciate every peach I ate in July, in August? I wonder. And remember, as I always do when I ask this Did I Truly Appreciate XYZ question, that precious, poignant moment at the end of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town:

EMILY: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”

STAGE MANAGER: “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”

I remember the first time I saw Our Town—sitting beside my mother at a small and shabby community theater in Lynchburg, Virginia. I was fifteen or sixteen. I remember, hearing the Stage Manager’s answer, promising to myself that night: “will! I will always live my life, ‘every minute,’ with intention, with gratitude, with focus.” (If I’d known the word “mindfulness” I would have added it to my mental list. But I hadn’t. Not at that age. And not in segregated, conservative, sleepy Lynchburg.)

But I haven’t.


Family Matters


A regional drama has been resolved: For most of the summer, two cousins, members of the Demoulas family, have wrestled over control of the Market Basket discount-supermarket chain their Greek immigrant grandparents created.

And the good cousin won! The cousin who knew his employees’ names. Who wanted more of the profits shared with his workers. Who believed that working at the local Market Basket could actually be a career path.

I have observed this job viability at the Market Basket down the street. I have seen neighborhood kids trade in their Bruins and Pats tee shirts for Market Basket’s crimson jackets and move up the food chain. So to speak.

Getting back to the drama: In the first few days, as the cousins and their lawyers wrangled and Market Basket employees staged huge rallies in support of Good Cousin throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine; doing The Right Thing as a shopper wasn’t all that obvious. Because this dispute wasn’t really a labor dispute. (Although the Teamsters and other unions might have decided not to support the status quo/Bad Cousin because, pretty soon, the stores’ shelves were pretty much empty.)

“Don’t support Corporate Greed” begged a hand-made sign hung on my Market Basket’s parking-lot fence. So we didn’t. And shoppers across the region did the same thing. And, I’d like to believe, Bad Cousin, overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for his cousin, gave up.

That Good Cousin’s father, Telemachus Demoulas—named after the central character in Homer’s Odyssey, apparently—played fast and loose when he was in power and cheated his brother George, Bad Cousin’s dad, and all of George’s family and thus begat this Greek tragedy unto generations; what a great story!

And one everyone can relate to. Story does that. So I also choose to believe that’s why so many people supported Good Cousin. Because we know this family. They’re just like ours.


“By The Side of the Road”


The House by the Side of the Road
by Sam Walter Foss

“He was a friend to man, and lived
In a house by the side of the road.”
— Homer

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man. –

(Sam Foss, 1858—1911, was a well-known poet in his day and a beloved Somerville resident.)

Aside from an upcoming weekend in New Hampshire with friends, my summer travels are over. So I, like Mr. Foss, will happily spend the remaining, warm days on the side of the road—or, rather, on my front porch or back yard. Grateful that my injured daughter’s on the mend,  grateful for kind and loving friends, family and neighbors, grateful for peaches and summer squash and vine-ripened tomatoes, I shall be grateful for this time to be grateful.

Praise be.




The personal is the political.



[My oldest with her youngest]

Every bloomin,’ freakin’ day are you getting 10 to 15 frantic emails from the Democratic Party and their kin? Do the senders wring their hands about the dire state we’re in and what terrible things will happen if YOU don’t send them 5 bucks? Do some “We’re teetering on the Edge!!” emails also remind you of how many times they’ve already emailed you this past week and yet . . .  Do you struggle with this blitz of near-hysterical requests? Do you want to to do the right thing—yet wonder if money is really what’s needed? Do you suspect that your contribution’s simply adding to an already spiraling downward madness in this country?

Yeah. Me, too.

Here’s what I’m doing: If, indeed, raising money is truly the only way to save ourselves from That Other Party, my money’s going to Emily’s List. Because, it’s true, the personal is the political. And Emily’s List supports women candidates who will speak out on the issues that most affect me, my daughters and my grand-daughters; indeed, all women.

FYI, here’s a list that spells out–in part– what I’m  talkin’ about:

  • The right to vote.
  • The right to be protected against domestic abuse, sexual harassment, and rape under the law.
  • The right to receive an equal wage.
  • The right to be promoted, despite whether or not you have children, despite your gender, based solely upon your work performance.
  • The right to quality healthcare.
  • The right to have access to birth control.
  • The right to choose.
  • The right to have a career, a family, or both.
  • The right to marry, despite your sexual orientation.
  • The right to choose your path in life, and not have gender roles assign your path in life.
  • The right to quality daycare.
  • The right to be represented in our political and religious institutions.
  • The right to speak your mind, instead of being dismissed because you are a woman.
  • The right to have impossible beauty standards removed from your life.
  • The right to have a job in a traditional male-dominated field.
  • The right to financial independence.



[Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, summer of 2013*]

“Either your children are the centerpiece of your life or they’re not. And all the rest is commentary.” 

I’d copied that quote so many years ago I can’t quite remember which New Yorker writer, quoting his wife, wrote it, nor know any more the name of his wife. But I do know this: For forty-four years, ever since the birth of my first daughter, that statement is me.

And yet it took a tiny, peppermint-striped, baby’s sunhat jammed into the chainlink fence to really, piercingly understand how true that is!

I’d been walking around Fresh Pond last evening, a reservoir for the city of Cambridge, when I’d spotted that sunhat. Although a popular and well-used wildlife preserve and nature walk, the actual pond is carefully cordoned off. Hence that chainlink fence.

I was there for the beauty and the solace of trees and sunflowered meadows and redwinged blackbirds and late-afternoon sunlight on water, having just gotten word that my grown daughter, who’d had been in a horrible bike accident on Saturday, had just gotten out of surgery.  And that it went well.

So much to process as I walked: Lingering, still-heart-racing shock. (She lives and bikes in Connecticut; I’d been in Louisville, Kentucky when I’d heard the news.) Overwhelming gratitude that her sisters and her loving husband have been and are still so hands-on taking exquisite care of her. Relief the surgery, which took hours, went well. Anxiety. Worry. Sadness. A roiling, boiling stew.

And then, suddenly, I saw it, that sweet little hat, tucked into the fence because some baby had lost it and someone else had picked it up and carefully displayed it in the hope it would be found.

And motherlove just flooded me, primal, fundamental, incredibly powerful, central to who I am; the centerpiece of my life, indeed.

* This photo references a well-known children’s book re motherlove. Do you know which one?





I will lift up mine eyes . . .



[Salt Lake City’s reservoir; Easter Sunday, 2014]

A few summers ago, the teenaged son and daughter of an old friend—who now lives in Wyoming—stayed with us for a couple of days to take a look at colleges, these young people’s first trip East. At breakfast one morning the teenaged son stepped out onto our deck: “There’s nothing to see but houses!” he complained. “Back yards. How can you stand it?” Other Beyond-Route 128 residents have told us the same thing. “I just felt so boxed in,” the Washington-state father of my son-in-law complained of his college years at Dartmouth.

Gotta say, a major joy when visiting my step-son and his family in Salt Lake City is just looking up! To push my grandson on a SLC park swing and gaze at a snow-capped Wasatch mountain is always a thrill. Since I’m clearly quite content to live exactly where I live, in sardine-can Somerville, I must not require these heady, Rockies glances to sustain me. Or even, as Psalm 121 goes on to say, to be reminded of “whence cometh my help.” (Sometimes the King James version is just what’s needed, right? Or is it just me?) But these ever-present mountain views never get old.

No, as thrilling as these sightings are, my experience of Divine Assistance is inward. I know this is a construct, I know I’ve been using English, both modern and early 17th century, to explore The Unexplorable, “the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1:9)

But it works for me.