Saturday, January 17, 2009

Yes we can -- feel the magic

If I am fortunate enough to be spared the ravages of Alzheimer’s in my last years, I will remember the events of the next few days always. We live in an amazing time. History is being made, and I can sense it in the very air around me.

This morning I watched the first legs of President-elect Obama’s train rally from Pennsylvania to Washington. It was good to see him standing tall and smiling as he and Joe Biden waved from the back of the train to throngs of people who waited at the station, but it wasn’t he who inspired me today. Today I was moved to tears by the faces of all those people, young and old, black and white, bundled up in hats and coats and waiting for hours to share one brief moment of hope and promise.

Journalists on the train reported passing through rural areas, places where there was no obvious sign of habitation, only to spot one person standing by the edge of the woods or two on a barely visible rooftop, waiting for the train to pass. Those people waited for nothing more than to experience this moment today and share it with their children and grandchildren through all their tomorrows.

*******

Near noon, I rode into Baton Rouge with my daughter to take Lucy and Winston to the groomer. At the exit ramp where we left the interstate, a familiar figure sat on the grass to our left. He’s a thirty-something white man, shabby but not desperate looking, who has been somewhere near that underpass nearly every time I’ve been to Baton Rouge in the past year. Whenever I see the man, I also see his big, brown dog, the faithful companion who stays so close beside him that some part of the dog always touches some part of the man.

The man keeps long hours in his open-air workplace, displaying the kind of hard work and dedication that would earn him a good living if he were to apply the same effort in the business world. I don’t know his circumstances. I won’t judge him.

My daughter and I waited in the right-hand lane to make our turn. In the left-hand lane, nearest the man with the dog, a late-model SUV pulled up to the red light and stopped. In the next instant, our attention was diverted by someone running past us.

The driver of the SUV had left her vehicle with the door wide open and was running in high heels back toward the man. We couldn’t see her face, but she seemed to be a young person. She was nicely dressed and had long, straight black hair and skin the shade of brown that made me think she might be of Hispanic or middle-eastern origin.

When she reached the man, she handed him some money, but she didn’t do it in an impersonal way. She stopped and petted the dog, then reached out and hugged the man before she ran back to her car as the light changed.

High as I still was on the passion of all those people on TV who waited for a glimpse of Barack Obama, I burst into tears again. I wish that young woman knew how much she moved us today, not by her donation to the homeless man, but by her acknowledgment of his humanity.

**********

The new administration has requested that Americans consider Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a day of national service. I love to think about how much we can accomplish as a nation when we all work together. There's even a website (www.volunteermatch.org) to help us locate agences in our own communities who can use some help.

I checked out what’s available near my own zip code and found a few things even an older lady with bad knees might be able to do, but nothing I’m ready to commit to on a long-term basis. What I can do for this Monday, though, is go through my closet and pull out some of the perfectly good clothes I never wear (too small, mostly), clean them if they need it, pack them in the nice set of luggage I never use, box up a couple dozen hard-cover books that are taking up space, and drop off the whole kit and caboodle at the local Goodwill store. It may not reach the level of personal sacrifice a lot of people will make, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Domestic disturbance

It was the kind of incident that, had they been famous, the paparazzi would have loved to capture on film and sell to the tabloids: a sudden flare-up of violence behind the closed doors of a home where love and peace are the norm. The fact that it may have been born of frustration repressed for years does not excuse the assault.

Those of us in the family have been aware for a long time that she has a tendency to mind his business. We've seen her manipulate him to get what she wants. We've watched her lord it over him occasionally, and even, once in a while, make no attempt whatsoever to hide her embarrassment at his overly friendly interactions with others. We've talked about these things behind their backs, and we pretty much all agree that she doesn't behave this way out of malice. It's just that she has a strong personality, and she's always absolutely certain that she knows better than he does what's right and what's wrong.

Maybe he got tired of it. The thing is, though, he's never given us the slightest indication that her dictatorial nature might get on his nerves. He's an easy-going guy. He's always seemed to tolerate her affectionately, leaving those of us who know them well to admire his "don't-sweat-the-small-stuff" attitude.

There was no sign of tension between them at bedtime, when they passed by one another with scant notice as we all performed our nighttime rituals. Nor did anything seem out of the ordinary when I accidentally woke them at four-thirty in the morning. I got out of bed and tiptoed to the bathroom, hoping not to disturb them, but by the time I was finished, they were wide awake. They answered nature's call, too, then poked around looking for something to eat. I was ready to go back to bed, but instead I gave them cookies.

She got comfortable and nibbled her cookies leisurely. He ate his quickly, standing up all the while, then moved amiably toward her to see if she had anything left that he might eat. I didn't specifically see or hear her reaction, but I'm guessing she expressed her unwillingness to share in a way that pushed him over the edge. All I know is that something I didn't see or hear sent him into a rage.

Instantly, he was standing over her, menacing her, threatening her in his loudest, angriest voice. I can't quote him directly, but the essence of what he screamed at her was, "I am SICK and TIRED of all your CRAP, and you'd better WATCH OUT, B----!"

It was surreal. I screamed at him, "Stop it! STOP it!" and he did stop it, just as quickly as it had started. He walked away to the other side of the room, but I could tell the fight was still in him. He stood tall, shoulders back and head held high. He didn't say it in words, but his body language said quite clearly that he wasn't sorry at all. "She had it coming," his posture seemed to say. "Enough is enough."

As soon as he backed off, I turned my attention to her. She had no physical injuries, but her feelings were hurt, and she was obviously shaken. She sat erect, her body trembling, for several long minutes. As I spoke to her in what I hoped was a soothing voice, her wide, fearful eyes locked onto my own. She looked at me pleadingly, as if to ask silently whether I'd witnessed what had just happened and whether I would have believed it in a million years if I hadn't seen it for myself. I felt really sorry for her. She seemed so shocked, so confused.

I talked to both of them -- to each of them -- trying, I guess, to reassure all three of us that the anger had dissipated enough that we'd be safe to go back to bed. Finally, he headed off to sleep where he always does, and she climbed into my bed, seeking refuge. It took a while for my heart to stop pounding, but once it did, I drifted off to sleep. I imagine they had a hard time getting to sleep, too.

The next morning, before I left for work, there didn't seem to be any major tension or hostility between them, though I did see her snap at him once. Fortunately, he had the good sense and self-control to leave her alone. I worried about them the whole time I was away, but when I got home from work, they acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened.

Maybe they've mastered the art of living in the moment, but I can assure you that I haven't forgotten the incident. I find myself watching them more closely now, looking for undercurrents of emotion that might erupt in another explosion of violence. I never want to see that again.

I hope they can put the hard feelings behind them. After all the years they've been together, it would be devastating if their relationship broke down at this late stage of their lives. Kadi is 11 now, and Butch is 10. They've always had each other to count on, ever since they were puppies. This was the first time I've ever seen them fight.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2009 and life is fine

The holidays have been wonderful, though I'm not sure I could keep up this pace for another day. Fortunately, as my daughter pointed out earlier, this particular day that feels like a Sunday is actually only Thursday, and we have three days left to recuperate before returning to work.

The time off from work would have been much more restful if it weren't for all the people who celebrate the season with fireworks from Christmas Eve through New Year's Day -- and maybe a few more days if they haven't managed to use up their stash. So far that's nine straight nights of trembling, terror-stricken dogs who have refused to go outside from dusk until sometime in the wee hours of the morning, long after the last pop or boom. The quantity of sleep has been sufficient, but the quality of it has been poor.

There have been several days lately when I haven't even turned my computer on. Though I've checked in a few times to read my favorite blogs on the fly, I haven't stayed long enough to leave comments. I regret not having had the time to tell you individually how much I appreciate you, and I hope to spend more time with all of you in the coming days and weeks.

In the meantime, I hope your Christmas was all you wanted it to be, and I wish you the happiest 2009 possible. I have a feeling it'll be one we'll all remember.

Happy New Year. It's a wonderful world.