PRETTY WOMAN

by sandra on May 7, 2016

{In honor of my mother this Mother’s Day, I offer “PRETTY WOMAN”, EXCERPTED FROM MY UPCOMING MEMOIR, “THE CORNER OF BURCH AND GRACE”, SOON TO BE ADAPTED INTO A ONE-WOMAN SHOW.  (i’m the one woman, by the way)}

Dorothy and Me, Christmas 2015. Sunglasses due to eye sensitivity after surgery. Look at that full head of hair - finally, her natural color.

Dorothy and Me, Christmas 2015. Sunglasses due to eye sensitivity after surgery. Look at that head of hair!  Finally,  her natural color.

“Did you find it?” she pressed. “Can you see it or not?”

It was 1968. My mother and I were in the kitchen. She was bent forward from the waist and I was researching the crown of her head. My job: to find the chestnut she’d placed there amongst her freshly-rolled curls.

My whole life, I never saw my mother’s natural hair color. When wigs were in, she experimented with them just for fun, but my mother’s bottled-red hair was, as she referred to it, her “crowning glory”. Throughout the year, she experimented with various hues. Chestnut-red was her favorite fall color.

In early October, she’d gather up a chestnut, freshly-delivered from the huge chestnut tree standing sentry in our front yard. She’d take the chestnut to the pharmacy and find a hair dye to match it. After she finished coloring her hair, she’d call me into the kitchen to corroborate how good of a job she’d done at matching that chestnut.

For summer, she chose a lighter color, more of an orange-red. One day during my 4th grade summer, my mother was dying her hair and had some dye left over. “Would you like to try it?” she asked. “Sure,” I said.

Twenty minutes later, like magic, my naturally dark-brown hair was an unnatural orange-red. I wasn’t sure if I liked it so I decided not to tell anybody and to act as if nothing had changed. Later that day, when I went outside to play, Mrs. Kinney, the mother of one of my girlfriends around the corner, called out to me from an entire block away, “WHAT HAPPENED? DID YOUR MOTHER DUNK YOUR HEAD?”

By the time I returned to school the day after Labor Day to start 5th grade, I already had a demarcation line of my dark-brown roots re-establishing their territory. My class picture that year depicts the advanced stages of my two-hued tresses. It took the entire school year to grow my hair back to its natural color.

My mother, Dorothy Jean Thelma Reinig Blazynski, was beautiful. Plain and simple. She was charming. Sexy. Alluring. She turned heads everywhere she went. Men’s and women’s. She had a switch that wouldn’t quit. The neighborhood men wanted to be with her. The neighborhood women wanted to be like her.

She dressed impeccably and bought almost all of her clothing at the high-end Sample Shop on Seneca Street. She was crazy about leopard-print. Wherever she found it: in coats, purses, hats, housecoats, slippers or lingerie, she had to have it. One year, she had matching, faux-fur capes custom made for her and my little sister, Tammy. Tammy’s was capped off with a kerchief so she wouldn’t get an “ear infection” and off they’d go, shopping or errand-running, mother and daughter caped-crusaders.

My mother wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without makeup or in a frumpy housedress or with curlers in her hair, or, all three – like some of the other neighborhood mothers did. In the case of an emergency that would have taken her out of the house with curlers in her hair, my mother made sure to cover her head with a kerchief. And she always put on lipstick, no matter what.

My mother loved lipstick. She never, ever left the house without it. She had tubes of lipstick everywhere: in the bathroom medicine chest, on her vanity, on top of her dresser, in her purse, in the ashtray of her car, on top of the kitchen stove (causing the lipstick to melt if she forgot about it when the stove was on). During the sweltering and humid Buffalo summers, before the days of air conditioning, she loaded her lipsticks into the butter dish in the door of our refrigerator to prevent them from melting.

Maybelline Midnight Blue Mascara was her trademark eye makeup tool. And, because our entire house ultimately served as my mother’s vanity, several of those white mascara tubes could be found all over the house as well.

In the 1960s, the only nail polish colors that existed for humans were pink, white, clear, ivory, coral and red. My mother, however, was polishing her toenails royal blue and emerald green. All of the neighborhood women carried on when they saw the intense jewel tones glistening from my mother’s summer toes. “My GOD, Dorothy!” they screeched. “Where did you find those COLORS?”

My mother just smiled and basked in the attention. But she never revealed to the neighborhood women her secret, which was that she was procuring her extra-ordinary toenail polish from the poodle grooming shop right around the corner on Seneca Street – practically right under their noses.

Even if they had known where to procure them, those women would not have dared to wear those colors. Those women didn’t have my mother’s moxy. Those women were all pink, white, clear, ivory, coral and (maybe on a special occasion) red nail polish women. Royal blue and emerald green nail polish existed only for groomed poodles. And, for my mother.

Residing in the long, wooden box under my mother’s bed was her vast collection of spike-heeled shoes. Just like her lipsticks and her royal-blue mascara tubes, my mother’s high heels were scattered all over the house: in her bedroom, in the living room, in the dining room, in the kitchen, in the vestibule, under furniture, on top of the freezer, behind furniture, anywhere, everywhere.

On a spring or summer whim, she would change the color of a white or tan shoe with the dyes she bought at her shoemaker down Seneca Street, always leaving an amateur’s telltale splotch of dye either somewhere inside the shoe or on its sole. When the little rubber piece wore off the metal spike of the heel, making the heel sound like a hammer dragging across the sidewalk, she handed them over to the shoemaker for repair, who rendered them good-as-new.

Funny thing was: my mother always drove barefoot. She said that she couldn’t feel the pedals with her shoe on. Whenever she got into her car, she slipped off her right heel; in the wintertime – her right, heeled- boot – and tossed it over to the passenger-side floor.

Watching my mother get dressed for public viewing was like watching a medieval knight prepare for battle. The foundation of her every outfit was bra, panties, girdle, nylon stockings, slip. She’d stand in front of her vanity mirror and hold her girdle up in front of her, its thick, smelly, rubber just 2/3 the width of her body. “How the heck is she going to get into that stinky thing?” I marveled.

She had a system. First, she stepped her right foot through the leg opening, then the left. Then she started wriggling around while dragging the resistant rubber girdle up her body. As it drew closer to her waist, she started jumping up and landing down, jumping up and landing down , over and over, again and again, as if she were rebounding on a trampoline, until her entire lower body – from her waist down to a few inches above her knees -was finally sealed inside that merciless, ivory-rubber fortress.

Sometimes she wore a panty girdle that left her lower legs free while focusing all of its attention on crushing her abdomen. Whichever girdle she chose, once it was in place, it was time for the nylons.

From one of the eager and teeming boxes occupying my mother’s vanity and dresser, she eased back the tissue paper and gently drew a pair of nylons up and out of the box, like a snake charmer.

Then, being extra vigilant not to poke her fingers through them or catch them on anything that might cause them to run (like an unshaven leg hair or her ever-present anklet), she gingerly unfurled them in the direction of the garters dangling off the hems of her girdle legs.

Finally, if she were wearing a dress that day, she placed a full-length slip over her head and smoothed it down the length of her body. If she were wearing a skirt, she stepped into her half-slip. Once this extravagant foundation had been laid, then, and only then, could my mother put on her actual outfit, usually a skirt and a blouse or a sweater. And high heels. Always high heels.

INTIMATE eau de toilette by Revlon was my mother’s signature fragrance of choice for years and years and years. One heavy spraying from head to toe signaled the final step in her dressing routine before she stepped out the door to go public.

One day, on the bus ride to school, I was having an argument with one of my girlfriends about which Barbie was best – the blonde or the brunette. Out of nowhere and, out of context, she sneered, “Your mother dresses like a queeeen,” drawing her teeth back over her lips to emphasize the “ee” part of “queen”.

I smiled at her, knowing full well that her comment was meant as an insult. My mother did dress like a queen, while her mother didn’t. None of the other mothers did. This was no insult. This was a compliment. I knew that her nastiness was coming through her mouth via her mother’s mouth, so I said nothing and wallowed in the truth: her mother was jealous. None of the other neighborhood mothers were anywhere near as beautiful as my mother. And they all knew it.

I don’t believe,though,that the majority of neighborhood mothers were jealous of my mother, but I do believe that they envied her. After all, most of their husbands were on the lookout for my mother whenever she walked down the street, but then again, so were all the women. But for very different reasons.

My mother filled our house with music on a regular basis. Elvis, Tom Jones, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frankie Laine, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Nat King Cole. She’d stack up the 33s by fives and the 45s by tens and away she’d go, TWISTING TWISTING, TWISTING away! She loved dancing in general but she especially loved doing The Twist and she did it with glee and whenever she got the chance.

She’d park herself at the ironing board, surrounded by overflowing baskets of unrelenting laundry in need of unwrinkling and let the iron dance across the board.
Every once in a while, she’d leave the iron down and step away from the board to dance a little too long, accidentally branding a shirt or a sheet. Her whole life she was crazy about Elvis Presley. She once told me that my father, jealous of my mother’s infatuation with Elvis, forbade her from seeing him in concert when he passed through Buffalo in 1956. (But she did get to see him, finally, in 1977, the year he died.)

Shopping was my mother’s favorite pastime and she practiced it almost daily. Christmas, naturally, was her personal high season. It was the time of year when she retailed with fervor, focus and purpose. She had to see everything in the entire store, no matter the store. She had to travel through each department, peruse every aisle, examine every item. We might be in one store for two, three or four hours and then leave without buying anything. Many times I’d find myself reduced to tears, exhausted and desperate to go home. Despite my begging, my mother ignored my pleas and continued to shop, leaving the stores only when she was good and ready.

With the exception of ceramics classes or an occasional outing with a friend, shopping was my mother’s main activity outside of the house. Besides her wardrobe and heels and her emerald-green and royal-blue nail polish, shopping was the only thing my mother had that she could truly call her own.

Many times throughout my childhood, I recall her singing one particular tune, the lyrics and melody to which she herself had composed:

….”Ohhhhh…. tobe….. sing….uhl…..agaaaaaaain”…..

Our house was too big.
There were too many children living in it.
And there wasn’t much of anything just for her.

The Dead Artists Society

by sandra on March 13, 2016

{ Readers: It sometimes takes me a long time to understand how I feel about events which have affected me deeply. Keith Emerson’s recent suicide (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the now-iconic progressive rock band from the 70s), finally brought it all into focus. The post below is the result.}

Dear Keith Emerson, Robin Williams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Tony Scott,

The first thing I want to say is: thank you for all the beauty, the fun, the intrigue, the magic and the mayhem that the practice of your various art forms has given us.

I don’t fully understand suicide; surely, though, to be honest, I’ve thought about it at least a few times in my life, either while struggling with my own depression or feeling stuck in what seemed like unsolvable life circumstances.

I cannot judge you beautiful souls for what you’ve done. You must have been in tremendous psychic pain to do it; that, too, I can personally understand, as can so many of us.

Because of your suffering, you’ve all killed yourselves.  What a tremendous act of self-will – perhaps the ultimate act of self-will (CONGRATULATIONS!).  However a 12-step program would call it “self-will run riot”, given that the perpetuation of life at all costs is considered Natural while the taking of one’s own life is not.

I read a meditation book once, called “Turning the Mind Into an Ally”. Clearly, your minds had become your  ArchEnemies.  So many of us struggle with our faulty thoughts and belief systems and we’re never even aware of it.

At any rate, you’re gone and no one will ever fully understand why.  But what stands out most to me about your deaths is the methods you’ve chosen, given your collective lives of creativity, intellect and sensitivity.

I wonder why, after having lived lives of heightened and elegant creativity, did you chose such inelegant ways to leave life’s stage? Surely, as showmen of various genres, you were aware of the importance of crafting each creative moment, each note, each word, every look and utterance,  in order to manifest optimum artistic impact and authenticity.

I’ve got something to say to each of you:

Keith Emerson,  you’ve imprinted the souls of all those who were affected by your musicianship. You’ve gifted us with the highest forms of musical genius.  You’d lived life elegantly. Why couldn’t you let yourself die elegantly?

For example, this could have been an alternative scenario to your self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head: You put on your best silk pajamas (or boxers; or nothing), retire to your plush, Santa Monica bed, and then, you imbibe in a perfectly-concocted pharmaceutical cocktail (stirred, not shaken) that would have allowed you to drift off peacefully.

Instead, you left remnants of your beautiful brain and chunks of your skull and scalp scattered about for your longtime partner to come home and find. SURPRIIIIIISE, HONEY!!  She’ll probably never recover from what she saw but I guess it’s too late to think about that now.

Robin Williams, after astounding America (and me, as a teenager) with your  otherworldly brilliance as Mork in MORK and MINDY in the 70s and then, making me cry many years later from your performance in DEAD POETS SOCIETY, the last image I want to have is of you dangling from a fucking doorknob with your eyes popping out. Goddammit!

And, YOU, Philip Seymour Hoffman: You were brilliant. And, you broke my heart. But you tried for 20-some years and then you said, “Fuck it.” I understand.  So many of us do. And, we’re still here, striving.

Finally, Tony Scott: It seems to me that suicide, once decided upon, should be a sacred and private act. You know, just to respect the Powers that Be (if just a little bit) that gave us this life in the first place. Jumping off a bridge in public for all to see seems disrespectful, both to the privileged life you were allowed to lead and to the anonymous driversby who knew nothing about your life. Then, to add insult to injury, your sacred ending was reduced to soundbites by random spectators. “I was driving by when I saw someone jumping off the bridge.”  A vulgar and trite ending to an important life, if you ask me.

I had started out writing this post as a compassionate act. And, I’ve discovered along the way that I’m really angry at all of you. See how that works? You can have compassion and anger operating at the same time.  It’s a shame that you couldn’t offer that to yourselves.

In closing, I want to say that I’m really sad that you’re all gone. Artists are many of the most sensitive and delicate of souls gracing our precious time here on Earth. What would our lives be like without art and music and literature and film and dance?

I guess I just wanted you all to hang around with the rest of us, enduring the good times and the bad and learning the lessons from it all, seeing it out, naturally, till the end. But, I guess you just couldn’t.  And that makes me deeply sad.   And compassionate.

In closing, I want to say thank you again for using and sharing your creative gifts with the world. You have all made your mark in artistic history. I just wish your endings could have been sweeter.

Happy Travels, Friends. I hope you find  peace Elsewhere that you couldn’t find here on Earth.

And Then, A Butterfly Landed

by sandra on July 24, 2015

(Special Note: I originally posted this story on July 24, 2015. Today,  August 1, I heard from the woman who was the driver of the car involved. She has posted a lengthy comment at the end of this post. Please be sure to read it.)

Early yesterday evening, while riding back home to Atlanta from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where my friend, Paul, and I had spent an enchanting day as tourists, I had a brief encounter with my mortality.

When taking a road trip, Paul likes to take the back roads as much as possible. So do I. So, when we left Chattanooga, we traveled the country roads for a good hour and a half, enjoying the wide open spaces, tallying up all the Baptist churches, and, finally,  making a pit stop with a roadside farmer who was selling homegrown cantaloupe and tomatoes out of the back of his pickup.

Eventually, Siri steered us onto I 75-Southbound to Atlanta. Traffic was tooling along smoothly and without incident – all six lanes of it.  We were driving in the far left lane. And, you know how when you’re on a long trip, you get into a rhythm and settle in to the uneventfulness of it all?

So, there we were: tooling along, enjoying  a nice road rhythm and settled into the uneventfulness of it all when, literally, from one second to the next, a car was spinning around in front of us, travelling across two lanes of traffic. When it entered our lane, I called out, “Whoa! Whoa!” But I wasn’t even that loud. And, I wasn’t even scared.

Paul was able to slow down and stop the car in time to avoid a collision. The spinning vehicle, a VW Jetta, had come to a stop on the shoulder and was facing southbound, in a perfect straight line.

“Pull up behind so we can make sure they’re okay,” I told Paul. I immediately called 911. Paul, a nurse, got out of the car to check on the VW’s passengers.  Then, we waited for the police to arrive.

It turned out that that VW had one passenger, a woman, who kept saying, “I’m lucky to be alive.” All four of her air bags had deployed, yet her car was barely damaged. It seems that either she clipped a semi when she was changing lanes, or, the semi clipped her. I don’t know. We didn’t see any of that. All we saw was a car revolving across the lanes, a sight I’d never seen in real life, but had seen in “reel” life – the movies – about a million and a half times.

We stayed on the scene. The driver was pretty shaken up, as you might imagine. Paul kept her company by her car until, eventually, the polixw came and Paul and I were free to drive off.

And that’s when my mind and body registered what had just happened… how close we’d come to a possible fatal accident; how quickly one’s life can be altered, literally from one second to the next; how perfectly that car had spun across the lanes, neither striking any other vehicle nor the median, next to which it came to a perfectly-aligned stop; how, given the gravity of events, no one was hurt.  All of it…an Absolute Miracle.

I awakened several times last night. My first thought kept going to the incident and to how fleeting our lives are. We might want to live to be (you fill in the number) but  there is no guarantee of anything, after all.  I thought of how precious life is and  how each precious moment – and each precious person – deserves our full attention, appreciation and respect.

I thought about what I have done in my life.  Then I thought about what I haven’t done for one reason or another – mainly because of fear. Then I thought about how much time I waste not doing what I know I’m supposed to be doing and how my time might run out while I’m wasting it by being afraid.

Mostly, though, I thought about the perfection of that series of moments which led up to the accident.   I pondered how perfect was each detail, as if the event had been choreographed specifically for all of the people involved.

And then, all day today I found myself pensive and contrite. But mostly, thankful. Deeply, deeply thankful.

I went to the gym for a workout and marveled at the perfection of my body and its ability to perform any number of tasks which I ask of it. Then I went outside to sit by the pool and enjoy the air after a fresh rain.

As I studied lines for my acting class, my mind kept drifting back to the mysterious series of yesterday’s perfectly choreographed moments.

I was filled with absolute gratitude and humility for this beautiful gift of life which, for some reason that I will never know, I have been granted. And, yesterday, spared.

And while I sat there swimming in gratitude, I felt something around the top of my head. I picked up my cellphone and used its glass as a mirror.  At the exact moment that my eyes looked into the glass, I saw a butterfly – a purple butterfly with black wings – landing atop my head.

There she sat for a moment, reminding me that all was well. You might not know this, but it’s a rare occurrence when a  butterfly lands on one’s head.  She reminded me that, even if I don’t yet fully understand it – and may never – my part in the incident which occurred yesterday was as perfect and right as the rare gift of her presence atop my head, right there and right then.

Now, read the comment from Susan, the woman in the car:

I was the driver of the VW described in Sandra’s story about the incredible accident that took place on July 22, 2015 in Marietta, Georgia, when the driver of a semi-trailer truck came into my lane slamming the rear of my car, sending it into a violent spin. On first impact the air bags deployed and car’s engine went dead as the car spun violently into the front of moving truck. The car was hit twice again by the truck; in the mid-section and front fender. I recall being whipped around, hearing the truck tire crunching into car fender as though trying to devour me, …the smell of burning rubber and smoke. And then somehow I was released from the front of the truck. As the car spun around across three lanes of oncoming traffic. I caught a blurred image of the concrete divider Sandra wrote about. With no power steering, no power brakes, and no vision on driver’s side due to air bags, I suddenly had a sense of when to grab the wheel hard. I just knew it was time to pull out of the spin. I recall slamming the brakes with both feet, and then the car stopped. As I crawled out through the bags to push open the damaged door I heard Paul’s voice asking “Are you alright? are you alright?”.

I’ve relived this over and over. Waiting for the crash of oncoming traffic I knew was out there, waiting for the car to crash through the divider and roll into oblivion, …waiting to die any second. How could I have been in control of that car when I could barely see out the window? And yet something was. As if to emphasize the point, the car “landed” perfectly parallel to the concrete divider, safely out of harm’s way. A cosmic signature of sorts to say, “yeah, it was me”. It was and continues to be a mysterious, humbling, life-changing experience. On a lighter note, my friends always said I was a control freak…

Sandra, thank you for this gift of your story, the ability to reflect and piece together the meaning of it all. Not only was my survival a miracle, …the only people stopping to help just happened to be a nurse and a writer! How can this be???? 

by Susan on August 1, 2015 at 12:41 pm.

It Ain’t About the Weiners

by sandra on May 25, 2015

(MEMORIAL DAY is a sacred day. Let’s remember all the men and women who have died in service to our country.  Even with all of our problems, people worldwide are still clamoring for entry to The United States of America. Even if you’ve never known anyone who has died or served in a war, take a moment today to bow your head in remembrance and gratitude.)

This is a re-post from last year:

This morning, on my walk through my gorgeous, lush neighborhood, I glanced across the street at an older man heading uphill in the opposite direction. His wife, using a cane, languished a few feet behind him.

“Are you a veteran?” I called out.

“Yes,” he smiled warmly.  “Korea. 1953. I was a marine.” Bill was his name and he’s 82 years old.

“I’m so happy to see you today,” I said.  “I like to commemorate Memorial Day with more than a shopping spree and a barbeque.”

His smile told me that he appreciated what I’d said. We small-talked for a minute and then we parted ways in opposite directions.

As a young person growing up and for many decades therafter, I used to think that Memorial Day was about the supersales and the family cookouts. Especially, though, it was about that extra day off from school or work.

Then, in my 40s, while living in California, I met Leo Finegold, who, at 18, was held as a POW by the Germans for a month.  Leo, who is now 88, told me about the squalid conditions, the fear, the cold and the filth which permeated his experience and forever imprinted his life.

Leo became the most important man ever to enter my life. And, it was Leo’s stories that instilled in me the true significance of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is a sacred day of recognition of the lives lost, the bodies broken and decimated, the minds and lives inextricably altered by the experience of war.

Throughout history, many millions of people in countries all over the world have lived and presently do live amidst the terror of the theater of war.  Thankfully, we Americans have never had this experience.

So, today, when you find yourself giddy with the all the great deals you’re getting at the mall and/or enjoying a second or third helping of barbeque  and potato salad, just stop for a moment – just one, SACRED moment, to give thanks in your mind and heart to all of the men and women who have given or lost so much in service to our beautiful country.

Thank You.

In closing, I give thanks and remembrance to my deceased uncles Ronald, Spencer, and Franklin Reinig: my best friend, Diane’s, father, Philip; her uncle, Nicky, who was also held as a POW by the Germans after his plane was shot down; and, her uncle Johnny – all of whom served in World War II.  And, my friend, Glenn Damon, who, as a National Guardsman, ended up serving several tours during the war in Iraq and who, in the process, lost a lot of what he held dear.

Most especially, I give thanks to my dear friend, Leo Finegold, who used his life in  service to others and is one of the most loving and beloved people I have ever met.

 

A Disturbance In The Force

by sandra on January 10, 2015

I first wrote this post December 15, 2012, the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre.  Here we are, two years later, continuing to rack up the tragedies one-by-one.  Whether it’s the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices in Paris a few days ago or the three-degrees-of-separation suicide a week ago of a 19 year-old girl, the human race is still very much in peril.

I could write a new post every time a new tragedy occurs, but, why waste my time? All you have to do is replace the words “Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre” with the name of the current (probably preventable) tragedy.

This post is as pertinent today as it was when I wrote it two years ago.  I look forward to the day when I can take it down. But I think it’s going to be a while.

Please read it.  And leave a comment, for chrissake. Just so I know you’re out there.

Then, pass it on.

“I felt a great disturbance in The Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” Obi-Wan Kenobi, STAR WARS

This time it’s 20 small children and eight adults – including the 20-year-old killer and his own mother.

We Americans, who are by now inured to living with these types of pernicious massacres, found ourselves collectively disturbed at the soul level by the news coming from Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday.

I wonder:  Can we stop right here and learn, finally, from one more vile tragedy? Might we declare, as a nation, that this will be the last time that all of us will ever have to endure the trauma that has forever imprinted the residents and the town of Newtown, Connecticut? Or, will we just keep going? Think about it: What’s the next logical progression in this mutant scale of homicidal devolution? The killing of Babies? Pregnant women?

I believe that The Universe, our Creator, The Force, The Great Spirit, God, Buddha, Allah, The Alpha, The Omega or Nothing-whatever you choose to call the energy that enlivens every sentient being on this planet – provides us with opportunities to evolve at the soul level; then, hopefully, by awakening to our potential for good, we can be of useful service to each other while we’re alive.

I imagine that these 28 souls came together last Friday, under contract to us all, as a nation, and sacrificed their lives in order to wake us up, once and for all, and to say that enough is finally enough.

The United States of America is the most violent nation in the world. This is fact. Our ubiquitous crime and violence, along with the insatiable desire of far too many for more and more weaponry are only symptoms of our greater societal disease.  We are a nation of abject individualists; we are self-centered, instead of other-centered, or collectively-centered.  Too many of us suffer from feeling “less than” if we don’t turn out to be “successful” or “famous” or “rich”.  We are focused outward, instead of inward. And it’s destroying us. Individually. And collectively.

We feel profound futility around this pointless annihilation of human life, which seems to be occurring now in stepped-up succession. We ask ourselves, “What can we do about it?”

Here’s a suggestion for something we can all start doing right now- as individuals: start paying attention to the people around you, whether or not you live with them; whether or not you like them; whether or not you agree with their politics or like the color of their skin; whether or not you think you have anything in common with them. There’s something magical and wonderful about noticing people and paying attention to them; for the recipient, it tends to feel a lot like love. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t respond to love.

There was a disturbance in The Force of 20 year-old Adam Lanza. Someone must have known about it. Maybe even lots of people knew about it.  I’ll bet that Adam Lanza felt unheard, unseen, unloved, unimportant. But he sure did get our attention in the end, didn’t he? Why didn’t he get our attention along the way? Was his heinous crime inevitable or was it preventable? Now, we’ll never know. Human beings – left unattended, feeling unloved, unnoticed, alienated, lonely and abused for too long, can easily gravitate towards mutant behavior in order to feel “seen” or indeed, just alive.

We live amongst countless “disturbed” people.  They are everywhere. And, they are not just the diagnosed or the undiagnosed mentally ill, or the obvious homeless people living on our streets. They are also our overworked single parents; our burned- out workers of the helping professions; our damaged war veterans; our neigbors who have lost their jobs; those who have lost their health; they are our abused and neglected children who grow up to be adults with no life skills and coping mechanisms. They are you. And they are me. They are all of us. And it’s each of our jobs to start paying closer attention, both to ourselves and to others.

We spend our lives engaged largely in meaningless activity and constant running around, “doing”, as if everything is so damned important. What if we started to think that paying attention to others is as important as all the other things we do on a daily basis? Maybe even more important.

When we take note of our own suffering and allow ourselves to feel it, it allows us to take note of the suffering of others.  Each time we do this, we build on our collective force which binds us together on a basic, human level.

Reaching out to other people is easy. Express concern when your family member, friend or co-worker seems troubled and offer an open ear.  You don’t have to “fix” anything; just listen. So many people have no one to talk to; no one to listen to them.  Look the homeless person in the eye and say hello. One day, that might be you. Drop by the home of your elderly neighbor whose children live out of town.  If you suspect that a child is being abused, take action to protect that child.

Something in every American was shot dead last Friday, not just the 28 victims of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy.  And, if we are to honor these 20 children and the eight adults – including the killer – we have to resurrect that part of ourselves that no longer accepts violence as an acceptable part of our culture.  This includes the violence of misogyny, racism, homophobia, child abuse; allowing our mentally ill to live and die on our streets; cutting people off in traffic; and, just plain bad manners. All of these, we’ve come to accept as normal. We have to become kinder people and learn to reach out to each other, even if it’s inconvenient or feels uncomfortable.

Try approaching with an open and understanding heart someone whom you might normally judge. “Seek to understand instead of to be understood,” taught St. Francis of Assisi. Just look. And see. And respond in some small way.  Paying attention doesn’t require that much energy. And it costs nothing.

How many of us feel invisible, unheard, unnoticed, unimportant, unloved?

The truth is that there is not a single soul amongst us who is not suffering on some level. No one. Our shared suffering can make our collective human experience feel worthwhile;  it allows us to connect with each other and to practice loving-kindness, for ourselves and for each other.

This is how we begin to heal ourselves and ultimately, our systemic societal disease, which has reached a terminal status. And, if, as a nation, we don’t respond to the slaughter of our own children, then, truly, who are we as the people of that nation?

Yes, there is a terrible disturbance in The Force.  And it’s up to each one of us to do something about it.