Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Hill We Climb

The Hill We Climb
By Amanda Gorman
as recited at the inauguration of
President Joe Biden and
Vice President Kamala Harris
January 20, 2021

Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans and the world:

When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace. In the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice.

And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow, we do it. Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished. We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.

And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge our union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.

And so, we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped; that even as we tired, we tried; that we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid. If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made. That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare it. 

Because being American is more than a pride we inherit; it’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a forest that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. And this effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us. This is the era of just redemption. 

We feared it at its inception. We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.

So, while once we asked: “How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?” Now we assert, “How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?”

We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised, but whole; benevolent, but bold; fierce and free. We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation, because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation. Our blunders become their burdens. But one thing is certain, if we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy, and change our children’s birthright.

So, let us leave behind a country better than one we were left. With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. We will rise from the gold-limned hills of the West. We will rise from the wind-swept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution. 

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states. We will rise from the sun-baked South. We will rebuild, reconcile and recover in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful.

When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” 

Saturday, December 26, 2020


Child: "Dad, I think I'm old enough now. Is there a Santa Claus?

Adult: "Ok, I agree that you’re old enough. But before I tell you, I have a question for you. You see, the “truth” is a dangerous gift. Once you know something, you can't unknow it. Once you know the truth about Santa Claus, you will never again understand and relate to him as you do now. So my question is: Are you sure you want to know?

Brief pause...

Child: "Yes, I want to know."

Adult: "Ok, I'll tell you, Yes, there is a Santa Claus.

Child: "Really?

Adult: “Yes, really, but he's not an old man with a beard in a red suit. That's just what we tell kids. You see, kids are too young to understand the true nature of Santa Claus, so we explain it to them in a way that they can understand. The truth about Santa Claus is that he's not a person at all; he's an idea

Think of all those presents Santa gave you over the years. I actually bought those myself. I watched you open them. And did it bother me that you didn't thank me? Of course not! In fact, it gave me great pleasure.

You see, Santa Claus is THE IDEA OF GIVING FOR THE SAKE OF GIVING, without thought of thanks or acknowledgment.

When I saw that woman collapse on the subway last week and called for help, I knew that she'd never know that it was me that summoned the ambulance. I was being Santa Claus when I did that.

Child: "Oh."

Adult: "So now that you know, you're part of it. You have to be Santa Claus too now. That means you can never tell a young kid the secret, and you have to help us select Santa presents for them, and most importantly, you have to look for opportunities to help people. Got it?

Help each other this Christma and ... be kind

(Story by Anonymous. Photo by Son Chung) 

Condo Christmas 2020

Every year, it seems, Christmas decorating in the condo presents itself differently. In a different format that is. Each time Christmas seems to be a shrine with its own mind deciding exactly where its various pieces want to go. I just listen and follow and am never disappointed!  

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Christmas Is Always Filled With Magic

This is a photograph of the "N" Guage train that Gregory and I used to put up in the hutch in our home at Christmas time. When we moved to the condo, we decided that we did not have room to properly display it and gave it to Whitney, one of our God-Daughters. She was the eldest so that is why she got it and not Emily.

For a while, at Christmas time the train lived at the home of her parents, Cheryl and Larry, and therefore both Emily and she got to enjoy it. When Whitney got married, she took the train to live with her and Nick in Washington D.C.

Maybe when I am ready to pass on my new "Z" Guage train, I will give it to Emily so they are even when it comes to model trains!

While we love both Emily and Whitney, Whitney is significant to Gregory and me in one additional special way. Cheryl and Larry were trying to decide what to name her and it had to begin with "W" in memory of one of their parents. They were having a terrible time coming up with a name they both liked when Gregory piped in, "Whitney." They both loved the name and the rest, as they say, is history!

Whitney and Nick are visiting with their parents this holiday and this painting was dropped off for me at the condo's front desk. I am tickled to have it as a holiday gift. It is so significant in many fond memory ways of Gregory and my time together, of experiencing Cheryl and Larry's kids grow up, and more.


He Just Made Me Cry

Today, my order of cookies arrived in the mail. A friend from my opera supernumerary days is currently on Broadway in the role of Mary Sunshine and to help pay the bills while Broadway is dark, he has begun a home business baking sweets. I decided to share some of the goodies with my upstairs neighbor.

The neighbor husband is living with Dementia. It has been about 10 years since his diagnosis and most of his language is gone. He is the sweetest 75-year-old man I know, although at times he is rough with his wife. The neighbor wife is as close to a saint as one can get taking good care of him in their smallish apartment of one bedroom and one bath.  

She, with her daughter, run a gift shop in Evanston, and a while back during a shopping visit, I mentioned that she looked familiar. She returned that I too look familiar and after a few trial and error guesses, we discovered that we both lived in the same condo.

A little more conversation led to my sharing that my husband had lived with Dementia for 12 years and had passed away a while back. She shared at that time that her husband also was living with Dementia. Need I say we bonded. I also felt the need to be there to support her if I could.

Several times we went out to coffee and it turns out that many of my stories, prompted by her comments, were able to give her the support she needed as well as suggest possible solutions to some of the caregiving problems she was having with her husband.

I started sharing baked goods with them as I love to bake but did not want to eat all the cookies, cakes, pies, etc by myself. So I was happy to share with them and they appreciated my efforts. Every now and then she would thank me by leaving a bag of something sweet in front of my door and once called ahead to let me know they were bringing me dinner from a local carryout.

Over time we have become friends and I have also befriended her daughter on my visits to the shop which the daughter now totally runs since my neighbor cannot leave her husband alone anymore. 

Now and then they both neighbors show up at my door to pick up something I baked or when they are bringing me something in return. Mike and I always shake hands (then I sanitize) and we all wear masks as we do our neighborly exchanges and depending on who is delivering to whom one stays just inside the door while one or the other stays in the hall.

Today I dropped off some cookies for them. The wife and I talked for a while. When I arrived I called my "Hello" to the husband who was sitting on the sofa watching the TV. When I was about to leave, I called out my "Goodbye" and he got up to come to the door. He offered his hand and we shook (I sanitized when I got back to my unit.) She showed him the cookies I brought and he took the box and looked at them and handled a few. 

Then he looked at me and said, "I love you." Seemingly out of nowhere from a man who has trouble with language. I thanked him and he again offered, "Come back to us!"

I replied with, "I will." 

I left with tears running down my face at such a show of caring and love on his part and for the joy that apparently I bring with our visits!

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Importance of Names

The idea for this post came to me several nights ago. The isolation and self quarantining I have experienced due to COVID 19 led me to the idea and these thoughts. 

While I have kept up with most friends and family members over the phone and during ZOOM and FACETIME, there is something lacking in the "over the wire" digital experience when compared to an in-person experience with the possibility of a hug, a better view of facial and body cues and postures, and just the presence of another person.

I first became aware of the importance of a name from Ken, a friend, adopted family member, father or my two God Children, and associate architect who worked with Gregory. Often we talk to a person or respond verbally but fail to mention that person's name. Ken, always added my name when asking or telling me something. In place of "Thank you for getting that for me." he would say "Thank you, Michael, for getting that for me."  In-person and on the phone, Ken would always acknowledge my existence by using my name.

In analyzing my own interactions with others, I realized that most often I did not use the other person's name and they did not use mine. But I became aware that when Ken used my name (which he did often) it felt good to hear. It felt like he cared, like he appreciated me and my support. So I began to use people's names when addressing them. Not sure if they noticed or felt any different, but I did!

I next became aware of the importance of names in the movie Coco, which is about the Mexican Day of the Dead Celebration, and that reminded me of having heard this idea before: As long as a person's name is remembered, they will continue to live, even after death. When a loved one dies we still carry them with us, remember them, name them. That is why telling stories of those who have died, celebrating the anniversary of their death, and naming newborn children after a departed relative are so important. Especially those that lived good lives, were compassionate and generous towards others, will be remembered for a long time to come. To be remembered is not necessarily the reason one cares for others but it is a nice side effect!

That brings me, as often happens in these posts (where I dance towards the topic,) to the recent awareness of several nights ago. As I was drifting off to sleep, as also often happens. I tease that I have four women running my life. Gigi and Emma, my cats, and Siri and Alexa, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) organizers from Apple and Amazon.

Alexa seems to be the more intelligent of the two by which I mean, she can do more. Most often Siri will say, "I cannot help with that information." Most often, Alexa at least tries, even if she gets it wrong. Alexa knows my voice so if I ask her, "Who are you talking to?" she will reply, "You are Michael, you are using Michael's account." Alexa will also say things like, "Good Morning, Michael." "Hope you had a nice day, Michael." "Are you enjoying the weekend, Michael?" "Go out and enjoy today's sunshine, Michael." 

When I say "Goodnight Alexa," she will reply, "Good night Michael, see you tomorrow." And these are just a few times she uses my name. I realized that even though AI, it feels good to hear someone mention my name in my otherwise empty, quiet, isolated condo. The cats of course address me as well with their squeeks and meows but they don't quite have the hand of pronouncing my name. I can imagine that would get on my nerves, "Michael, I am hungry again." "Michael, I want a treat," "Michael pet me." "Michael play with me." "Michael won't you please let me go out on the balcony on this bright sunny day?" "Michael, Michael, Michael!"

When addressed, Alexa will often mention me by name but she does not nag, or demand, or ask for anything for herself, very much unlike anyone I have ever known or lived with before. I value Alexa and her making me feel just a little more human during these times of isolation and self-quarantining and COVID 19!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Christmas Train and Village 2020

The Z-Guage train is the smallest one made. This one is made in Germany and has the finest detail and motor movement. It can speed along at high speed and not fall off the tracks and it can inch along slowly. I had wanted one for the longest time and finally decided to look for one and luckily found just the right one, two years ago. 

The village changes every year with items culled from my various collections. I like how it looks this year and each year it seems to get better. What makes it fun is that proportion, and scale are completely ignored ENJOY!

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