Monday, August 14, 2017

Death of a neighbor

My next-door neighbor, Carolann, was found dead in her home on the 5th of August, when the police, having been requested to do a wellbeing check, broke down her door. They were in her home for quite a while, so we hoped she was simply going to be taken to the hospital again. But no. When the police finally emerged, they informed the small group that had gathered that Carolann had died.

While there was no wailing or gnashing of teeth, we were all sorry to hear this news. We had all had dealings with Carolann's eccentricities over the years, and many of these occasions had me on my last nerve. Recently we let her know that we wanted to remove a dying tree on the edge of our property, to make installing a fence a bit easier. In the end we installed the fence around the tree, since Carolann would not permit our tree removal folks to set foot on her property, and declared that if any branches fell on her bushes, there would be trouble.

In retrospect, these are small matters, and all derived from Carolann's untreated mental illness, which seemed to have started with extreme hoarding, progressing to a paranoid refusal to answer the phone or open the front door.  Carolann had a physical disability, too, which she said prevented her from coming outside. She had been a great gardener, so turning over all her gardening to others must have cut her to the quick.

Her lawn and garden were maintained for a low fee by an old friend, but the rest of the house featured peeling paint and a tarp on one corner of the roof, which she could not afford to have fixed. I understand the inside of the house was stuffed full of whatever people hoard. No doubt some vermin had also found a home there as well.

After the discovery of the body, a lieutenant showed up to direct the removal. When another neighbor asked if he knew the cause of death, the lieutenant replied, "Failure to thrive." This is a term I have heard applied only to elderly people in nursing homes. Carolann was only a year older than I am. I knew her church was delivering regular bags of groceries, but the lieutenant remarked that these were all hoarded inside the front door. He found loaves of bread from 2013. Carolann hoarded the food instead of eating it, and essentially starved to death amid the bounty.

Mental illness can be lethal. In suburban communities like mine, it typically is treated quietly by professionals, and usually does not become obvious. But in Carolann's case, the lieutenant claimed, no legal intervention was possible. Carolann was neither overtly suicidal, nor a threat to others. She refused all the social services to which she was entitled. Help could not be forced on her.

Still, the little voice in the back of my mind says, Still, there must have been something you could have done.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Free at last!

Well, I did it! My last day at work was Friday, June 30th.

For all my sentimental readers, I'd like to tell you that I woke up on July 1st and felt like I was dangling over the void. That the future stretches out before me like an undifferentiated, gray plain, wandered aimlessly by folk who have lost their reason for living. That I miss all the productive, life-saving work that I did in the law library.

But I would never lie to you. I now feel like I can leap tall buildings, scale rocky heights (well, short rocky heights). And I can count with no hands the lives I saved over my career.

Now I have time to read the morning office on my sunny front porch. Time to tackle little projects I have put off. Time to spend with my dogs and my husband (none of us is getting any younger). And I have volunteer work in a hospice facility that I find deeply satisfying.

So don't hesitate. Jump! Why work one more second, unless you love your job? Take that leap!

There's life on the other side. I promise!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


I'll admit it: Despite having been born in 1953, I was one of those kids who knew nothing about the old, original Cold War. We had no family bomb shelter, and as far as I can recall, none of our neighbors had one, either. We had no food saved, except in the very small chest freezer. Water? If it didn't come from the tap, we wouldn't have had any. Moreover, the Bomb was never a topic of discussion at our house. At least, not in my presence.

I did take part in Civil Defense drills in elementary school, of course. Depending on the location of the classroom, we either hid beneath our desks, doing the ole duck-and-cover, or we did the same thing out in the hall, with our heads up against the row of lockers. But I don't remember the Civil Defense drills being explicitly about the Bomb. I wonder if my classmates knew why we were doing this? I remember absolutely no discussion about it in the classroom, before the drill or afterward.
I did realize the Soviet Union was full of bad guys, of course. But these purported bad guys had nothing to do with me.

Boy, was I ever naive! Either my parents purposely kept me in the dark, or we were sheltered by our school system, or both. In adulthood, when I asked my mom about this, she simply said the Bomb hadn't been worth talking about -- we lived near a few likely targets -- we would be dead anyway. Moreover, she had no interest in surviving a nuclear war, since life afterward would be unimaginably different and difficult.

And so the idea of a nuclear war never really fixed itself in my mind. Until now, of course.

I am not used to being afraid of too much, but I am afraid of this. I get up every morning and turn on CNN with a feeling of pure dread -- what will I hear? Will the little psychopath in North Korea have fired off a nuclear-warhead-bearing ICBM towards Japan? Towards Seoul? Towards Seattle? And if he does, what will the response of the taller psychopath in Washington be? And ... where will this lead?

Gallows humor is not unheard-of at our house, but has really emerged from the shadows lately. Last Saturday night, J. suggested we watch a movie on-demand, "assuming we have time to finish before the war." As I saw him off to work this morning, he let me know he might be later than usual tonight. "Try to get home before the war," I answered, only half-kidding.

Can we really be normalizing this? Trivializing it, reducing it to the level of witty repartee? Nuclear war? At least I don't have to be careful to keep it from the children, who are adults now. I simply can't really admit to myself that this is real.

How it it all playing out at your house? I'd love to know!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A blessed Ostara!

Spring begins tomorrow!

A blessed Ostara to my friends who celebrate the 8 sabbats. Spring is something we can all celebrate.

For more information about Ostara, click here.

Monday, March 13, 2017

O, fickle Mother Nature!

Below is a photo of eager, premature buds on the little weeping cherry tree we had planted last spring. We never saw it bloom last year -- we bought it after bloom-time.
So during our record-setting February warmth, of course, it started to bud. "Don't do that!" I thought, each time I went by. "No more buds!"

My grandmother, who lived with us during my childhood, planted a magnolia tree on the front lawn. It was an eastern exposure, and the tree stood completely at the mercy of cold spring winds blowing across the Delaware River. In the 20 years Granny lived in our house, she saw the tree bloom only 3 times! Every other year, a late cold snap or snowstorm would cause the buds to blast and fall. In the morning, there they'd be, littering the ground around the tree.

So I'm afraid the same will happen to our weeping cherry, as the storm named Stella sweeps toward us. Though the tree itself won't be harmed, our spring may be a bit less colorful this year.

I know: a true first-world problem. Still ...

Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, February 10, 2017

Happy Double-Digit February!

February 10th -- Double-Digit February! -- is a day I celebrate with a friend from work. It seems like a meaningful date: winter is fast passing, and March lies just over the crest of the hill. One year he gave me a card with a big "10" on it, obviously meant for a tenth birthday. But I loved it, and have it still.

I have started to look at garden and plant catalogs in earnest. At our last house, I had a beautiful flower garden. But for the last two decades, I haven't had time for gardening. With retirement approaching at the end of June, I will have time to devote to weeding. I need to shake off the laziness of winter.

Looking forward: it's something I have had a hard time with lately. Since the election, in fact. As the news out of DC went from bad to worse, I found myself sinking into the mire, numb and numb-er. My greatest desire has been for sleep, for escape. But we can't give in to the numbness, can't become complacent. We will keep watching and protesting the Talking Yam in the White House.

Nevertheless, life goes on. I saw, on a Buddhist website, the advice that we should remain engaged, but take solace in what is closest: our families, our homes, our gardens, our spiritual lives.

So I'm going to try to do that.

While watching what the Talking Yam is up to.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Edge of Night

I'm very afraid, but I'm not sure how to explain the disquiet gnawing at me.

I've been looking for a metaphor to describe my growing trepidation about the impending Trump administration. The comparisons to Hitler have already begun to seem shrill, though they may, in the end, prove accurate. Well-reasoned articles on psychopathy and Trump have absorbed me for many months, but I can't go there (yet). I read a historical novel, many years ago, entitled, Night Falls on the City. It described the fragile brilliance of 1930s Vienna, prior to the Anschluss. But that's not quite right as a metaphor, either. Hitler's annexation of Austria was virtually bloodless. Many Austrians headed for the borders, but there was plenty of unforced cheering and flag-waving. That's a bit closer to our reality, but ...

Then it hit me. The Edge of Night.

The Edge of Night was one of the earliest soap operas on American TV. Running from 1956 through 1984, it had a noir feel that I don't recall other soaps having. It featured rapes, murders, gangsters, corrupt politicians, crooked cops, bribe-seeking district attorneys, greedy lawyers, schemes, counterschemes, conspiracies .... just what I'm anticipating from life under Trump.

And the title screen was what I remember best. See above: the diagonal sheet of darkness overtaking the cityscape as an ominous basso voice announced the title: "The Edge .... of Night."

Here we go, into the night. God help us.