Thank You Anger, Thank You Rage

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It is Thanksgiving again. I say again because we Canucks had one 7 weeks ago. Some of us, however, have a foot in that other country and so we have two.

Then today talking to my American daughter long distance, I fell to thinking about how family members trigger each other. Holidays bring this out in the best of families, although a casual conversation can do the job just as well. I had just had one of those and we were analyzing it. How could I have handled it better, we wondered. Possibly, I could simply have acknowledged to the trigger-er that I had been triggered. Then I wouldn’t have got that great come-back in, I mused.

At that moment, I came face to face with my anger.

It’s been several hours since then and I have had time to see some of its dimensions, although mostly they vanish into the distance only hinting at the monolithic scale of my rage. There are sound reasons for harboring such a monster. If it were purely personal I might even be able to let it go, but the abuse which engendered it was visited on those I loved as well, vulnerable small people that try as I might I could not protect.

Years of therapy have not actually made a dent in it, although I have pretended that it did and mostly packed it away.

I read once that Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk who had a dreadful war to teach him rage, said that we have to honour our anger.

That seems more sensible than the idea that we somehow have to get rid of it. Mosh plans, pounding pillows, clobbering punching bags, all they accomplish is fatigue enough to make you too tired to care. And they seem to establish the habit of expression. For me at least.

My anger is too great to let loose.

I can’t imagine the anger of the Jews who escaped to NYC, leaving all their relatives to die in the camps or the surviving Bosnians whose loved ones were butchered and thrown in rivers or any of the other genocide survivors. Or the anger of slaves, past and present.

Even the anger of those who helplessly watch what looks like the demise of democracy is hard to get the measure of, or the rage of those who see the life on earth in peril and idiots denying same.

Of course we can use our anger as an impetus to constructive action, but the supply is surplus to needs. So then what?

The Vietnamese monk tells me that if I see the suffering that motivates my enemy, my anger will dissolve. A long range strategy perhaps. I’m a slow learner.

Meanwhile, thank you anger. You are mine. You are valid and reasonable. You are inextricably part of me. Sit with me here on this stormy night as Thanksgiving dawns again.

I undertake not to use you to harm others and, by honouring you, I know I render you less harmful to my self.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Bangor: Thanksgiving 2014

Bangor International Airport without snow

Bangor International Airport without snow

“We won’t get home for Thanksgiving,” said the woman beside him.

“It’s not Thanksgiving,” said Rob.

“You’re Canadian,” she guessed. “It’s Thanksgiving here.” They were sitting in an unheated room in a hangar at the Bangor airport. Their empty plane sat in the runway, its chute deployed. She had studied the group and sized my truck driving brother as the likeliest.

“Let’s rent a car,” she said. “We can drive me to Ithaca and you can go on to Toronto.”

He paused. “It’s getting dark. It’s snowing. I don’t know you and besides, I’ve seen that movie.” Which of course reduced him to laughter.

He withdrew to a quiet corner and called me on his Belgian mobile phone. “First, they said we were running out of fuel,” he told me, “but as we landed the whole plane started shaking. “I knew I was going to die. I thought I should hold the hand of the woman across the aisle, but she was too ugly. Then I thought, I’m here at the bulk head next to business class. I’m likely the only who will survive. Shoot, I thought.” They hit the ground. “Now,” he said to himself. Then they hit again and with a terrible whining, grinding and howling came to a stop.

The chute deployed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please keep your seats.” People were struggling desperately to get up and out. They had been told the plane was out of fuel. “There is a problem with the door,” the captain admitted.

Mayhem erupted.”I could have died,” was the universal cry. “I almost died.”

Me too, thought Rob. You’re not the only one here. You didn’t die. We didn’t fall out over the Atlantic. We are on a lucky flight!

Turned out once the door was opened that there was a problem getting the steps up to meet it, but that had been resolved and now Rob sat on a cold cement floor, his winter coat and boots safe in his checked luggage, catching laryngitis and talking to me.

Four hours later,  little had changed, except he had gone out for a smoke and set off all manner of alarms on his way back from the hardware in his joints. He was patted down, wand-ed and dog-sniffed, a hair raising experience given what he had smoked the night before. The promised plane from Philly had not arrived, would arrive despite the snow in half an hour, would not arrive if it snowed six more inches. But snow plows ground up and down the single runway, keeping it open. Finally, snow in Philly would prevent the plane’s departure from that city.

By now, he had called me four times and I was at Georgia’s place which is nearer the airport. “They’re sending us to a hotel,” he said.

“Yes, I can see it right next to the airport,” I said. I could also see the U.S. Airways flight status on another screen. The path led from Brussels to Philly, but the little plane was stuck in Bangor, Maine. “Don’t forget your meds,” I said.

“Oh, thank you, thank you,”he said.

“You put your meds in your checked luggage?” Oh he was rattled.”It’s okay, Rob. You’re safe now. You’re going to stay in a cozy snow-bound hotel.” Family history tends to send us off the deep end in urgent situations.

He made out all right of course. He spent the evening in the bar ordering rounds of drinks for everyone there and talking.

Two younger women told him of the way, troops are welcomed back at the airport. They are never greeted by “Welcome home” or “Welcome to the United States” that way lies emotional breakdown and mass chaos. They are greeted simply, “”Welcome to Bangor.”

At closing, his credit card wouldn’t swipe. No chip readers there. So the wealthy Belgian couple paid his bill and refused compensation next day, “Are you trying to insult me?”

I woke up in the guest bedroom to hear my phone ringing. The plane from Philly would arrive in Bangor, momentarily, read an hour and a half. His flight back north would be at 4:30 on Air Canada and he would arrive in YYZ at 6:06.”Wherever that is,” he said.

Then there was silence for 4 hours. I understood that. No worries. At 3:45, just as I was about to call him, he called me. The flight was delayed until 5:30 and he was going back to Brussels.

“Have you eaten lately?” I demanded.

Well no.

“Go. Eat. Have a drink. Relax. You’re almost here.”

“Okay,” he said. I was his big sister after all.

At 7:30 Georgia and I were on the road to YYZ, Pearson International Airport, trying to catch the right lane in the dark and snow. She insisted on driving her new car.

“Am I going to have to put you in the back seat?” she demanded.

I could have driven, but I was too tense to be driven.

“The car is dark blue,” I tell him on my cell phone.

“I don’t care what colour it is, just so long as it picks me up. I’m waiting at P,” he says.

There is no P of course, so I duck out of the car at C and run him down. He’s still clad in just a cotton sweater. We run for the car, half hugging. Georgia springs out to load the big bag, even though we are blocking a thru lane.

Our celebration dinner is smoked salmon pasta, thrice-cooked of necessity by niece/daughter. There are 5 of us, together at last.

“You are here,” I say in wonder, “And my daughter is still alive.”

(This apparent non-sequitor is explained in previous posts.)

Saving a Life: losing a friend

jim and IMon Frère et moi en Bruxelle

I feel like Dante after his epic journey through hell, purgatory and paradise. True I got to see the face of Grace and then to return home. But I’ve been spoiled. The paradise bit was full of light and love and joy. Once I got there, I was able to lift my eyes and love the pine-clad mountains and the pure light and air again. Home in TO sees a couple of hours daylight under gloomy skies. Something is always falling from the sky and the streets are slick with decaying leaves.

That’s not the worst of it. Two of the people I had counted on to welcome me home, to rejoice in our triumph and to console me for our ordeal are no-shows.

One is my son, whose sister’s life was just saved and who is on her way to being able to live a reasonably good life, if not to being cured. What we accomplished, in spite of MediCal and general incompetence, was a miracle, something to be celebrated. But this half of the family in Toronto is hived off into individual units. It begrudgingly pulls itself together for a funeral, if the relative is close enough, not apparently, for a good, boozy party of celebration.

The other is my friend, Sophie. Sophie is given to observing that she is glad she had cats instead of children, particularly since mine are so troublesome. What can anyone say to that? A cat can’t be Shakespeare. No, but listen, those children are unique and beautiful creations. They have made themselves who they are over decades. They have made many people’s lives better for knowing them. I don’t say any of that to her. I sympathize when an elderly cat has to be put down, as if it were an actual person. I inquire about the surviving feline, which drags its hind quarters.

In the midst of the worst or hellish part, Sophie suggested on the phone that it would be better for our patient if we let her go. A slip of the tongue I thought. But then she discovered that I had taken psychotropic drugs to survive the ordeal. “I wouldn’t speak to you, if I’d known,” she said. I’m still taking them of course. She has read a stupid book that maintains they don’t actually work and, despite her education, she believes it.

So she hasn’t called me back and that makes me sad.

Tomorrow, my brother, Rob, arrives from Brussels. “I thought I needed to come and cheer  you up and help you get back to your life,” he told me on the phone. I will pick him up at terminal 3 and take him to Georgia’s, where we will all have a sleep-over, along with two of my nieces. He will call me his little sister, even though I am older and make me laugh. The two of us have a reputation in Brussels for our comic routine. All we have to do is be in the same room and we’re off.

On Thursday, back on the mountain in Kern County, California, my son-in-law will turn chef again and make Thanksgiving dinner. Besides his recovering wife, my erstwhile house-mate Clara, my grandson Leo, his father -that would be an ex- and a friend will be there to raise a glass in glad thanksgiving that she lived, that she is thriving, that some doctors really are brilliant, that faith and dogged persistence and the odd temper tantrum can save a life.

PMC

 

Early October: reflections from Journal 119

The first weekend in October has always been an important one for me. As a high school English teacher, I found that by that date I had finally forged a relationship with my classes. I knew their names and I was interested in them as individuals and they had, usually, stopped testing me, having presumably given me a passing grade. So by then the hard slog of the new school year was over.

And there was another reward – it was a long weekend, the first Monday in October being Thanksgiving Day here, where harvest time comes earlier than it does south of the border.

Some teachers in the States have a long weekend as well in honour of Columbus Day. Not all, as I found it one year when I took my 7 year-old grandson for a hike in Topanga Canyon that day. I discovered to my mortification (I was a teacher after all) that his school, a private school in Los Angeles, didn’t have that holiday. It was the sort of school that let its students plan the lessons, so, in fact, our day trip was not much out of line.

This year, that child is in his first year residency at a New England hospital. Just saying.

On Saturday I drove to Stratford to see a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a trip of about an hour and a half with a bonus that hadn’t occurred to me. The trees were aflame with colour. In the middle distance woodlots glowed with orange and red and golden phosphorescence. (We are lucky here to have so many hard maples that produce such bright colours. The photographer who originally posted “A Tribute to Autumn”, which I reblogged lives farther north and west, I think, because the trees there produce mostly yellows.) The corn nearer the highway still stood dusky gold, but as we drove farther northwest, the fields became brown and beige stubble.

Surprising how cold it was when we got out of the car to find lunch. I had worn a sheepskin-lined rain coat and a wool tam, scarf and gloves, but the cold wind went right through me as if I were wearing diaphanous cotton. No doubt about it, summer was long gone.

I note by the way that, although it is only 70 degrees F. in Los Angeles today, it will be back up to 92 next week.

The Festival Theatre in Stratford Ontario has a thrust stage, rather than a proscenium arch. I first saw it when I was a teenager in the second year of its operation, although at the time, it was housed in a huge circular tent. The permanent structure was designed to mimic the tent. By the time, we had hiked through the park from our car, we were chilled to the bone and it seemed as if a glass of pinot noir was in order to get the blood moving again.

Once seated, I realized that my friend who had made the reservation online had upgraded us, not to the very best seats, but almost, thinking I wouldn’t notice her largess. It is hard in such a theatre to get a bad seat, but the sections at the sides of the horseshoe-shaped auditorium are more challenging. And the row in front of us was entirely empty, sold no doubt to some sponsoring company but not distributed so no heads obscured our view. The set had a staircase that swept up around a palm tree!!!! This production had been relocated to Brazil in the early 1900s.

I had looked up a summary of the plot of Much Ado About Nothing, just to sort it out from Shakespeare’s other comedies, but I was not prepared for how familiar I found it. I knew the next line before the actor spoke it. It was unsettling! Apparently, in my 35 year career, I had taught it many times and forgotten I had done so. Considering that most years I taught 5 plays by Shakespeare, I had much opportunity.

Basically, the play is about the duelling couple who apparently scorn each other and are always putting each other down, but eventually ….. Shakespeare used the same sort of plot device in Taming of the Shrew. He liked to set a headstrong, witty woman, in this case Beatrice, against the equally willful, caustic man, Benedict. There’s plenty of scope for pratfalls as they eavesdrop on their friends who are setting them up to fall in love.

After the show, we stopped at Balzacs for coffee and sugar enough to get us home through a dark and rainy drive.

Monday, turkey day, was a roast beef day in my house, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, which I came to love when I was married to a Yorkshire lad. Fortune had carried him back to my table after many years’ absence and he assured me that I had channelled his mother’s pudding. (See recipe below.) My mother-in-law used beef fat but beef doesn’t have much fat these days so I opt for butter. And it turned out well even though we never succeeded in raising large bubbles. Like my mother-in-law, I chose a loaf tin rather than the 9 by 6.You start the oven at 400 and turn it down to 350 after 20 minutes. If you are like me, you forget when you turned it down and have to wing it after that. Maybe that’s when I got help from beyond. Proof I had channelled her: it came out of the oven puffed high and lightly browned. You have to serve it asap, so the mashed root veg (See recipe below.) had to be ready, the beef sliced and the gravy made. (Why is there never enough gravy?) The roasted beet and argula salad had to wait its turn. The meal was so delicious that we four fell to expressions ofthankfulness spontaneously. And of course there was pumpkin pie.

There were absent friends, some more permanently absent than others. We were a family reconstituted with good fellowship and food.

Early October has a way of reconciling me to the inevitable, which comes earlier here than it does down there in my second home.

 Yorkshire Pudding according to The Joy of Cooking 75th anniversary ed.

Have all ingredients at room temperature, about 70 degrees F. Preheat oven to 400 F. Sift into a bowl:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons
1/2 tsp of salt
Make a well in the centre and pour in
1/2 cup milk
Stir in the milk. Beat in:
2 large eggs well beaten
Add:
1/2 cup water
Beat the batter until large bubbles rise to the surface. …Pour 1/4 in. beef drippings or melted butter into a 9 by 6 baking dish or 6 regular muffin cups. Heat pan or dish until hot. POur in batter and bake 20 min. Reduce heat to 350 and bake 10-15 min. longer until puffed and golden brown.

Mashed Root Vegetables a la Desmond, my hairdresser

Peel or scrub equal amounts of carrots, parsnips and turnip, dice, add water to cover, salt, bring to boil and reduce heat. Cook until fork tender, but not soft. Drain and mash. Add butter and pepper.
Desmond says, “Don’t even think of adding sugar. These vegetables are sweet enough.”