Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No Worries, You Go Ahead

Reverend Howard Camping, the independent Christian radio preacher who predicted the end of the world for last Saturday, might be looking only at the upper part of the glass, the empty part. That would explain his wish for the world to come to an end.

Sometimes the world as we know it overwhelms us with pessimism. It appears to be flush with liars and killers and thieves. Oh my. Yearning for a guilt-free escape may be appealing. But escapism reflects a narrow view. Maybe relief comes by widening one’s field of vision.

Like most of us, I gave a cursory thought to the Reverend. I did not divest myself of all my earthly stuff. I like my stuff, but not too much. It is just stuff after all. Nevertheless, I kept it, dusted it, mopped it, fluffed and folded it. Just like always.

I did make a mental list of all the things I wouldn’t miss about life on earth if, in an unlikely turn of events, I found myself drifting upward into the sunlight and clouds and the open arms of God. It’s a long list of nasty stuff, probably not dissimilar from your list, if we were to compare.

War, for example. No regrets in leaving war behind. Partisan politics. No pangs of conscience at its vestige shrinking on the curvature of the earth. Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump. No lamentations.

Then there’s the small stuff, the mundane. Yet even though it’s tedious and redundant, I just want to go on doing it. Go on doing the laundry and cleaning the litter box. Buying groceries, cooking them, eating them, and buying some more. Washing dishes only to dirty them up again.

I made another list of the things I would sorely miss. It’s even longer: Water, shimmering water, fountains, birdbaths and the birds on their edges. Fresh paint and generosity. Smiles, laughter, and new mown grass. But maybe we’ll get that in heaven.

Not to imply that my husband would be left behind, but I don’t want to go before him. I’d miss him so much I’d have to haunt him. I’d like to think I’d be a benevolent haunt, but who knows? Those of us caught between here and the nether regions sometimes behave badly. I could be impish. How could I forgo the opportunity to tweak those tiny details that hold him out of perfection?

Our son has taught me more than perhaps anyone else on the planet has. I hope I do die before he does, of course. But I reserve the right to hang around in the ether and nudge him (that’s a nice way of saying nag and pester him) into finding a smart and beautiful young woman who will take up the process where he and I leave off.

Someone said if there really were a rapture cats and dogs won’t be going. Well that’s just stupid. Of course cats and dogs will go. The definition of heaven includes cats and dogs. Look it up.

The Reverend said he’s “flabbergasted” his doomsday prophecy did not come to pass. He’s recalculated now and I must say I am glad to have another five months to reflect.

When I worked in the schools I told the kids I knew the meaning of life. It’s easy I would say: Make the world a better place. That’s why we’re here. As soon as we formulate the question and recognize the answer, duty binds us to get after the task. Get ‘er done!

It sounds daunting, but we just need to adopt the Okie version of completing a large project --- break it into small pieces and work on it “slow by slow.”

That’s where faith comes into play. We go about our daily business, doing our granular part with a gentle spirit, knowing somehow we’re fulfilling our obligations and contributing to the good of all.

Then, if on October 21st, or whenever that giant roulette wheel in the sky lands on our number, the harps begin to play, and our eyes are drawn upward, we can defy gravity without regrets.

If there’s anything left undone, it won’t be that we should have been kinder or more generous. We won’t be yearning for that one last chance to say, “No worries, you go ahead.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Grandma Wanted: Discerning Eye Required

No doubt motivated by people watching at the mall, an organization called Diet Life polled 2000 women asking the appropriate ages to quit wearing certain fashions.

Here’s a sample of their findings:

Quit wearing your miniskirts at 35, your bikini at 47 and your stilettos at 57.

OK. This isn’t a problem for me since I gave that stuff up long ago. All of it. Probably at 35, even though I still looked good, if I do say so myself. Thirty-five was a peak year for me. Gosh that was a long time ago! Darn it!

Editors from US fashion magazines Allure and More (geared to women over 40) stepped up immediately to voice their opinions on the subject. They say that these decisions are not about age, but about judgment. “Just look in the mirror,” they say. If you look good, wear it!

They point to Helen Mirren as an example, saying in her sixties she still rocks a plunging neckline and a bikini. Couldn’t agree more.

However, they gloss right over pronounced examples at the other end of the fashion faux pas spectrum. To wit: Cher, who used to rock it, but now dwells in the realm of caricature. And I’ll bet she has many mirrors in her many mansions. Susan Sarandon’s tired cleavage must be reflected somewhere; but she’s not looking.

While many celebs continue to look great well past the magic ages of 35, 40, 50, and even 60, we cannot let them be our rules of thumb. They and their plastic surgeons are not trustworthy.

And frankly, we can’t trust ourselves! Some of us just can’t accept what the mirror tells us. The human brain is a magnificent mechanism of mendacity. It can blot out trauma, even the trauma of sagging, bagging, bulging, and crinkling.

As you know, anorexics continue to see themselves as fat even as they waste away before their own eyes. Some of the rest of us manifest reverse anorexia: We continue to think we look slim even when the mirror says, “Not so much.”

I remember the first time I went to Weight Watchers (to be supportive of my friend who needed to go --- she invited me! Go figure.). When I weighed in, I blurted, “Are these scales correct?!” I didn’t believe the scales at Weight Watchers! That’s how far denial can go in the so-needing-it-not-to-be-true mind.

And so, if we’re not going to pick an arbitrary age to make the crucial determination as to whether it’s appropriate for us to wear a ponytail (cutoff age – 51!), and we can’t trust Hollywood or our own judgment; what about fashion designers themselves? They’ll look out for us, right?

Oops. Look no further than Princess Beatrice’s chapeau at the Royal Wedding. Designer Phillip Tracey said beauty and elegance inspired him when he made it.

Oh well.

We’re going to need a blunt and honest “friend.” We need someone who will look at our reflection for us and tell it like it is.

I remember years ago when Tina Turner appeared on the Oprah show. Tina looked good. She might have been 60 already, but hard body and wild hair --- we all wanted to go there. And Oprah did. She bought a Tina Turner wig and began to wear it on the show and around town in Chicago. I thought she looked great.

But soon Oprah returned to her show sporting her familiar coif. She confessed to a conversation she had about the wig with Stedman in which he asked, “Doesn’t anyone tell you the truth?”

So where can we find our own personal Stedman? I’ll have to hire one. My husband loves me just the way I am. Either that or he’s too smart to tell me what he really thinks.
Too bad my grandma’s gone. She would do it. And from her, I could take it.

I can see her now, filtered cigarette between manicured fingers, right eye squinting as she inhales, sizing me up in my new summer dress.

“That dress isn’t doing you any favors, Honey.”

That’s all it would take. I don’t need the details. Or Allure magazine, or Diet Life, or Entertainment Tonight.

I just need my grandma to state the facts without the varnish to keep me on the real side of “young at heart.”

There’s an opportunity here for grandmas with entrepreneurial spirit. Lots of us Baby Boomers need help with our reflections.

Come on Grannies! Step up! Get paid to save us from ourselves!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Preserving My Place in History

So prior to publication, Brooklyn Hasidic newspaper Der Zeitung photo-shopped Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason, a White House counterterrorism staffer, out of the iconic picture taken in the White House situation room, of top U.S. officials viewing the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.

The small, ultra-Orthodox paper released a statement Monday apologizing if the edited image "was seen as offensive," but said it was following Jewish modesty laws when it made the decision to delete Clinton and Tomason.

It’s only an historical record after all. And those pantsuits. Really.

As it turns out, there is no Jewish law mandating the removal of normally-clothed women from pictures like this. Must have been force of habit.

Jewish Week writer Rabbi Jason Miller voiced his criticism of the editing asking, "Is it really better to misrepresent the truth and deceive people than to see a photo of a modestly clothed Secretary of State?" Evidently so.

It’s hard to imagine that in 2011, in the United States of America, a mindset still exists even in a tiny corner of our nation, which would simply eliminate women.

I’m curious about how this denial of women’s participation in historic events has manifested itself over time. Did they censor photos of Christa McAuliffe, for example? No? Sally Ride? NASA could muddle along well enough without them.

Hey, what about Golda Meir? Thank goodness she covered up. Otherwise how would Israeli history have played out? Indira Gandhi? Margaret Thatcher…?

Is Der Zeitung’s editing offensive? Oh yes. Offensive and archaic. Offensive and egocentric. Offensive and ridiculous.

I can’t help thinking about the women in that community. They know, don’t they, that the men around them see their presence as extraneous and irrelevant to any central issue. It seems the men are embarrassed by the presence of women. Or maybe the presence of women is vague in their thinking, if they think of women at all.

Then again, I can conjure up of lots of moments I’d like to edit out of history. Maybe photos of bin Laden himself, even though he always dressed modestly. It would be as if he never existed! Nothing offensive about that. I like the idea.

Just like in “Back to the Future,” we could change history, and thereby improve the present, by pretending that bin Laden never existed. Let’s go back and wipe his dreadful face out of the record. Let’s remove every mention of OBL and his hideous organization. How long would it take before he actually didn’t exist? If there’s no institutional memory, there’s no OBL.

I’m guessing my movie reference might be lost on the staff at Der Zeitung. It must be problematic finding a movie to watch with so few choices and so little variety in the all-male category. “Band of Brothers.” “Saving Private Ryan.” “The Hurt Locker.” “Apocalypse Now.” All good movies, but wouldn’t one tire of war?

Still, the idea grows on me. I think I’ll prepare a list of candidates for elimination so historians can get to work. Off the top of my head - Hosni Mubarak, Idi Amin. Hitler, of course! Top of the list. How great would the world be without them and their legacies!

We could put John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and their ilk on the wipeout list. We won’t ever have to look at their ugly mugs or think of their pox on our sunny days.

Those are the truly dark entries, but we could have some fun with this. Why not?

Snooky, Paris Hilton? They must go! Hooray! Their tasteless and immodest shenanigans shall forevermore be eliminated! (I see that I probably would fit in with Der Zeitung on some of this.)

I never liked Phyllis Schlafly. OMG! Madeline Murray O’Hare. Gone baby gone! And God Bless America!

I know, I know. Someone’s going to come along and disagree with my list. Who gets to decide? Who gets to be the “taste police,” or the “modesty police?” In some places, it’s just a bunch of self-appointed men!

You may recall my resolution earlier this year to make the world a better place, but I concede a balanced system of accountability is probably appropriate.

We’ll have to form an inclusive committee: Women and men, liberals and conservatives, Giants and A’s.

Otherwise, some men might just get together and decide to eliminate all the women from key roles, like the role of Editor in Chief of World History.

Then where would I be?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I'll Dance at Your Wedding Instead

• "I've never wished a man dead, but I've read some obituaries with great pleasure.” -Mark Twain

Actually, I did wish Osama bin Laden dead. I told myself that I could pull the trigger if given the chance. I believe I could have. Blonde middle-class me. I killed him many times in my dreams and daydreams. And each time in my fantasies, on completing the task, I hanged my head and turned away.

Now that the day of his death has come, and though I am glad he’s gone, I cannot celebrate. On hearing the news of our successful mission, I only wanted to bathe, drink hot tea with honey, sleep a long sleep, and wake up to a world free of him. Breathe fresh air. Look forward.

I’ve never been a fan of courtroom celebrations, even when a filthy perpetrator of a heinous crime is found guilty and given a sentence that will make him suffer as he should. What’s to celebrate? Another life in ruin.

I’ll pass on the after party following a midnight execution.

It proved difficult to watch the chanting, flag-draped citizens of New York City jumping rhythmically at Ground Zero, looking so much like our enemies who celebrated the fall of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Or maybe like fans of the winning soccer team on any given Sunday in say, Brazil.

Of course New Yorkers have a special circumstance. Maybe if we stood there, we’d dance with them.

Put me in the category with those folks who find bin Laden’s death necessary and just. But it draws no feeling of joy and only the smallest satisfaction. It does not resolve the pain he inflicted; it only permits a release and strengthens a resolve.

Remember the scene in “Braveheart” where British King Longshanks’ emissary ties William Wallace’s bride to a stake and slits her throat? When Wallace returns to find her there, he single-mindedly seeks out the man who killed her, ties him to the same stake, and without ceremony, pulls his own blade across the villain’s throat. Justice? Yes. Joy? Hardly.

Perhaps you have seen the photo of President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, and members of the national security team in the Situation Room of the White House, their eyes riveted on the real-time images from helmet-mounted cameras worn by the operatives of the mission to kill or capture bin Laden. Even when they received the coded confirmation that bin Laden was dead, “Geronimo-E KIA,” news they no doubt sought out and awaited with anxious anticipation, they didn’t slap hands and dance around the table. The occasion of bin Laden’s death is a solemn one.

Dancing at justice served mischaracterizes it, pushes past that justice into the realms of revenge, retribution, and retaliation, with their ugly agendas and scant rewards.

Better to think of our intelligence operatives, of their methodical and meticulous years of labor on our behalf. Picture their determination, hunched over computers, sleeves rolled up, huddled with partners, bouncing facts and ideas, testing theories.

Or maybe they stood at walls covered with flow charts linking pictures and players, movements and events; thinking and rethinking, they fitted each new molecule of information into a gene and the gene into a pattern, followed that pattern to the DNA of our enemy, and at last, pinpointed that cancerous cell in the global puzzle.

We marvel at the courage and precision of Navy SEALs Team Six, carrying out this mission on the dry ground of a dusty compound so far away, changing the world. Thank you. Thank you so very much.

Thanks to the Bush administration for setting a clear agenda, and to President Obama for the courage and wisdom to follow it to its conclusion.

We’ve already seen the headline: “Who Will the Next Target Be?” accompanied by photos of other Al Qaeda leaders. Of course we must press on, repeating the process, culling every hell-bent radical whose feverish purpose denies its own impotence.

This is the invaluable work of dedicated unrelenting organizations and individuals, striving on our behalf, without fanfare.

They do it not for the celebration, but so we can read another obituary, and another. We may not throw a party, but our appreciation at the reading runs deep.