Monday, October 26th, Halloween arrived early in Albuquerque in the form of cold, wet white apparitions swirling around my house, possessing the thermometer and forcing temperatures down to record lows in the 20s. This is a case of boo meets brrr, and is very unusual in Albuquerque where I typically wait until November 1st to switch from air conditioner to heater. We had been experiencing record highs the week before and my Zinnias, Purslane, and Impatiens were all in full bloom on Sunday the 25th. I awoke the 27th to plants that had died from exposure to the frightening weather ordeal. Some were stiff and drained of all color while others were mushy, limp and lifeless. They were all buried under the approximately eight inches of snow that covered my yard.
I hoped the hose to my swamp cooler (New Mexico air conditioner) would not freeze. There was no way I would ask someone to climb onto my metal roof to winterize my unit until the snow was gone and the roof was dry. Happily (happy, happy, happy), I have a small gas fireplace in my sunroom that I know how to activate. I put on two pairs of socks, a couple of sweaters, and when she would let me a cat on my lap. Cinnamon and I camped out in the living room next to the sunroom and all was well and moderately warm.
When I went out to sweep the snow off of the porch and patio I did not fear, as I had when mowing the lawn the week before, being drained of blood by vampire mosquitoes and left in a lifeless heap on the ground ready for the formaldehyde station of the embalming suite (a little Halloween imagery thrown in there). Yes, even in a record-shattering snow storm, life is good (except for mosquitoes).
This year Fall was cut short and Winter arrived in a FLINCH (once while traveling with my kids, my son Zach asked, “When will we get there?” to which daughter Jessica cheerfully replied, “We’ll be there in a flinch.”). The snow is off of the roof and the hose to the A/C is disconnected. The heater is hooked up and blaring. I don’t expect Trick-or-Treaters tomorrow. I hope they will be home, warm, safe and sound, eating homemade cookies and caramel apples (things they shouldn’t eat when obtained from strangers). I’ve had my share of unexpected scary encounters this October.
I love movies. I love movies almost as much as I love music. Just like daily happenings remind me of songs, things that happen during the day remind me of movies. Last Sunday, I awoke and was inspired to write a story. At least I thought I was inspired. It might have been avoidance behavior; not wanting to attend to chores or do anything requiring physical exertion. I wrote my story, posted it in my blog, and like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” I awaited the accolades and recognition of its truth-promoting potential to pour in (A++++++++ on the virtual blackboard of blog comments). Like Ralphie believed his essay on the attributes of the Red Rider BB gun would shine the light of truth on the merit of his request for one for Christmas; I believed my short story would illuminate the value of truth over rhetoric and acceptance over intolerance. I thought my words would finally make clear that it is better to love than to hate.
I awaited the worldwide accolades that would surely come my way. I imagined the nightly news would feature a picture of Pope Francis (he really is a great guy who gets that it is better to love than to hate) as they read his statement, “Even an average middle-aged retiree in Albuquerque, New Mexico gets that love is better than hate. The truth is, hate tears down and love builds up. Come on people. Read the story. Different isn’t bad. It’s what allows us to see all sides of an issue and solve real problems. We just have to truthfully examine all sides of the problem.” My imagination, like Ralphie’s, tends to overemphasize my influence (and my writing talent).
Another one of my favorite movies is “The Invention of Lying.” One of the gifts of retirement is more movie-watching time. This gift is increased by the stay-at-home-and-watch-movies mandate resulting from the pandemic (the gift that keeps on giving). In “The Invention of Lying,” the main character inadvertently tells a lie and avoids the consequences and accountability (at least at that moment) of the truth. He’s the first to tell a lie, and he immediately sees the potential. He can avoid hurting others, by replying to requests for his opinion with small lies when the truth would be hurtful. He can do things that are hurtful, and then lie when asked if he did so. The possibilities would be endless. Ricky Gervais, one of the writers, is pretty clever. After inventing lying, the character played by Gervais chooses not to lie, when a lie would harm a loved one. Even after inventing lies, he wasn’t going to use lies to hurt people. Wouldn’t it be great if that were the truth of lying now. Not using lies to hurt people has been written out of the screenplay of “Now.”
While working, I would often use many words to tell a co-worker to stop a behavior that I believed was negative or destructive. Apparently, I have brought this practice with me into retirement. I wrote a story intended to remind people that lies and hate are harmful. The truth is, people already know this. I like writing, so I write. What I write is not always great. The truth is, I don’t work hard enough at it for it to be great. I let words flow and hope for the best. I hope that we will not allow ourselves to be manipulated by lies and intolerance. I hope (my friend Shari is big into hope – she’s wonderful) that we can embrace differences and reject hate. Can’t we all just get along? Oh, by the way, do these pants make me look fat?
It’s not Friday, but I had an idea (this does not mean it is a good idea) pop in to my head for a story. I thought, what the heck, I’ll go ahead and write it. Here it is.
The Great Unmasking
There was a vaccine. After months of widespread illness, isolation, fear and mask wearing, the universal availability of an effective vaccine had led to, initially an idea, and ultimately the plan for “A Great Unmasking.” There were supporters of the idea in every country on the planet. They came together, virtually of course, to finalize the plan. A date and time was chosen, when masks would be publically removed, exposing the facial expressions (and supposedly the personal character) beneath. As with most widespread, highly publicized events, there was great anticipation and many misconceptions.
The time was set. It did not vary by location. Some would be unmasked to the rising sun, while others’ unmasked faces would reflect the colors of the sunset. Those unmasked where it was night would have the advantage darkness provides, limiting the risks involved with immediate exposure. Some strategically travelled to the places where it would be night.
I was in a place where the event took place at mid-day. My location was afforded neither the softening beauty of sunrise or sunset, nor the cover of darkness. The sun was directly overhead as we emerged from our homes, masks still in place.
Throughout the pandemic, I had marveled at the variety of masks. The variety included style and material. Some were makeshift consisting of scarfs pulled up over the nose and mouth while others were made of paper and looked clinical and plain. Others were beautifully crafted and ornate. Some were cunningly clever.
I had always suspected that the style of the face covering reflected the character of the wearer. We had been masked for a very long time. I was anxious to see the faces behind the masks. I had long ago forgotten where there was beauty and where there was not.
It was an election year. I strongly disagreed with those supporting the “other side.” I suspected that once unmasked the faces of those with signs in their yards supporting the “other side” would reveal an ugliness of spirit that I was sure drove their political bus to the polls. I anticipated a ray of sunshine would highlight the righteousness of my beliefs revealed on my face as I removed my mask.
The morning of “The Great Unmasking” seemed to drag on as long as the pandemic. The time from ten a.m. to eleven a.m. seemed three times as long as the time from six a.m. to seven a.m. had. I had put on my very best mask before preparing to run outside and rip it off. Now the final countdown had arrived: 11:50…, 11:51…., 11:52….., 11:53…….., 11:54………, 11:55…….., 11:56……….., 11:57………….(my hand on the doorknob), 11:58……………(my hand turning the doorknob), 11:59……………(my hand pushing the door open), NOON! I ran from my house and tore off my mask. Why had I taken the time to carefully choose what was to be so enthusiastically discarded?
I scanned my neighborhood, examining the newly exposed faces of neighbors. I anxiously looked for the monstrous and/or righteous truths I expected to be revealed. Their faces were just faces. Some smiled at me, even though signs in their yards proclaimed support for ideologies very different from my own. Some scowled, even though signs in their yards mirrored those in my own.
There were good and not so good people underneath those masks, regardless of the signs in their yards. My expectation of what truth would be revealed by unmasking was not validated. Not all who subscribed to beliefs different from mine, or wore different styles of masks than my own, were monstrous or even bad. Even more surprisingly, not all who agreed with me, or wore masks similar to mine were good. Some who unmasked in the dark bravely moved to the light where there was no hiding what had been covered by a mask. Some who unmasked in the light quickly moved to the shadows. Hope grew. Maybe removing masks of political ideology would reveal our intentions and motivations, rather than rhetoric, allowing us to come together to discuss and truthfully examine the merits of our individual beliefs?
There were those who chose to remain in the dark to continue to hide what their masks had previously hidden. The truth of their beliefs were immediately suspect due to their unwillingness to expose them to the light of examination.
I had expected “The Great Unmasking” to reveal angels and monsters, and there were a few. What surprised me was that while the unmasking did reveal our individuality the greatest majority of us were beautiful and blemished. For most the unmasking revealed neither halos nor horns, but differences that required examination to reveal their merit, not their condemnation. That was the gift and the truth of “The Great Unmasking.”
Among the many, many things I don’t understand, is the saying, “What’s old is new again.” I’m pretty sure that what’s old, is still old. My shower curtain is old. I still like it, and it is still functional and attractive, so I see no need to replace it. I’ve been in my home for over twenty years and I brought my shower curtain to this house from my previous home. I want to go on the record (records are old, and now they’re popular again, but my old records are still old with scratches and skips) saying old is okay.
Old continues to decrease in popularity. Antiques are not as popular as they once were. Old people are neither valued, nor revered as they once were. We rarely brag that our washing machine, mattress, car or clothing are twenty-years old, or older. I admit, that while my parents had the same mattress for well over twenty years, I am happy that we now routinely change out our mattresses every seven to eight years (the whole dust-mite thing grosses me out). What I find discouraging is that even if we were unaware of dust-mite-habitat, mattresses don’t last beyond seven to eight years these days. Yes, this is going to be a “things were better in the good old days” kind-of post. Shower curtains were better in the good old days. They just don’t make shower curtains (feel free to substitute washing machines, mattresses, cars or clothing for shower curtains) like they used to.
Speaking of things not being like they used to be, let’s talk about the truth. It used to be that the truth was an either/or kind of thing. Now it seems as if the truth is whatever is being proclaimed the loudest. Truth has become quantified. The more something is posted, loudly proclaimed, widely broadcast, the more it is endowed with a moniker of truth. Many pre-retirement years ago, I worked in a school as an educational assistant for special-needs children. One of the children I worked with had Down’s Syndrome. He was delightful (and that’s the truth). Like all people, he did have good days and bad days. One of my tasks was to accompany a group of children as they were included in traditional (not limited to special-needs children) classroom settings. One day, I accompanied my group of kiddos to a history class. The student with Down’s Syndrome, in what was to become an act of prophetic behavior, would yell out following everything the teach said, “That’s not true.” In recent years, we have become more aware of history’s bias towards the victors. I’m sure that much of what the teacher said reflected societal biases and would have been an indistinguishable mixture of truths and non-truths. We don’t wait for history anymore, we just yell loudly and operate under a validated by volume bias. What does this have to do with my shower curtain? Well the truth is, very little, except that what’s old is old and what’s true is true.
New is okay, but old can be great. Commitment to quality and the pride in workmanship that traditional craftsman brought to their craft is being lost. When this happens, quality suffers. Some things may be old, but they can still be good.
At sixty-three years of age, I would have been considered quite old one hundred years ago. Now days, with the exception of my grandchildren, I’m not considered to be THAT old. It must be television. Television is convincing us that people are not old, but that washing machines, mattresses, cars and clothing are so old, they are constantly in need of replacement. It reminds me of a song that was popular with Girl Scouts: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”
The truth is, my shower curtain is old, but I like it and I’m keeping it. I have wonderful old friends, and I grieve bitterly when one is lost. The truth is, I love my old friends. They’re gold, even if their hair is silver. I do have some new friends, who just happen to have silver hair, and I love them too. One of my old friends loved to quote Lily Tomlin’s character, Edith Anne, and so I will too. Old is still old, and that is not only okay, “that’s the truth!”
I love the look and feel of Fall. It’s cooler. It’s colorful. The mosquitoes are hanging in there, but I’ve changed my attitude towards mosquito bites. I still don’t like mosquitoes or other blood suckers; however, I think that mosquito bites are proof that there is a God. Mosquito bites itch, and therefore, we don’t like to be bitten by mosquitoes. If mosquito bites didn’t itch, we might not mind being bitten by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes carry illnesses. Itchy mosquito bites motivate us to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. There must be a benevolent higher power putting itchy stuff in mosquito bites which encourages us to avoid mosquito bites and the illnesses mosquitoes carry.
Uh oh, I digress. Frankly, I have digressed for so long, I no longer know what I have digressed from. Oh yes, Fall. Fall can be tough. Last year Phil went into the hospital on October 5th and did not come out alive. This year, I lost my dear friend Mela. This year, the pandemic has had a devastating impact on our way of life, lasting all the way into Fall (no state fair or Balloon Fiesta here in Albuquerque). Of course, we need to suck it up to get through it. Much like mosquito bites, discomfort usually has a positive aspect. We have to persevere to realize it.
I’m in the Fall of my life. It’s good. It’s the season of retirement. Last year retirement provided me with time to care for Phil during his final illness. This year it provided me with time to spend with my beloved friend, Mela and her family. Sheltering at home due to the pandemic, while retired, has provided me with time to think about what really matters. Here’s what I’ve come up with: what really matters is spending time with the people we love; looking for the good in people, giving to and serving others (even those we’ve never met). I miss Phil and I will miss Mela. It will hurt. I hope to use that pain as motivation to honor his and her memory. I’m going to look at the beauty of Fall and remember the beauty of my husband Phil and my friend Mela.
Proof there is a God: the beauty of the seasons; the beauty of memories; the beauty of giving and serving; the beauty of retirement, music, sunsets, sunrises, Fall; the love of family and friends; the itch of mosquito bites; and more (after all, I’m no theologian).
When you lose someone, you treasure your memories of that person. Memories keep them close. When you lose someone, you appreciate those who are still with you. Fall is an end to the growing season of Summer. It’s not THE end. We get the makings of pies, jellies and jams and stock for the pantry. Fall is both an end of the growing season and a time of harvest and plenty. Every season has its gifts.
My friend has died. She was born one week before I was. We’ve been friends since our children were babies. She was a fine human being, and her absence is such a huge loss. Her absence is greater than any political loss. She was intelligent, kind, productive – truly a blessing to all she knew.
So many people flocked to spend time with her before she died, we risked exhausting her (and her family). We all wanted more of her time. She was so GRACIOUS. She would greet everyone with a smile and ask how they and their family were doing. I never once heard her complain. While visiting, we never talked about politics. There was no fake news. She was dying and she and we knew it, but we focused on living; on being together and enjoying life – the life she had left. She shared that precious time; first with her family and then with her friends.
We watched silly movies and laughed. We reminisced about funny exploits from our pasts… and laughed. Interestingly, everyone who visited had stories of funny exploits. She was good, decent, fun, and funny. Sometimes I think of people being either righteous or irreverent. She WAS right with God, and God blessed her with a, not wicked, but certainly well developed sense of humor. She was faithful AND fun!
A truly good person has died. I pray that we can put politics aside and just be humane. I want us to look beyond our selfish interests and work on being a blessing to others. I want to be like Mela. I want us all to be like Mela. What a wonderful world it would be.