A Disturbance In The Force

by sandra on October 2, 2017

{I originally posted this essay the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Today, I post it in response to the senseless carnage from Lost Vegas. Tomorrow, there’ll be yet another reason. It seems that we are a nation of heavy sleepers.}


“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”.  Our focus is 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.

Living on the Ledge of a Dream

by sandra on August 21, 2017

(the following conversation was overheard this morning as I stood washing dishes at the sink)


I like the simple life, so as soon as I ripen, I plan on becoming a tomato sandwich.


Not me!  I’m going to be the most magnificent marinara sauce at a romantic engagement dinner that makes it impossible for her to say “no”!


Small potatoes, My Friends! As soon as I’m just a little bit soft, I’ll be on a plane to Spain. Straight into the heart of The Tomatina!

But before I end up spent and splattered in every direction, my last words will be: “Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”*

*James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


by sandra on August 16, 2017

{I first published this post September 21, 2012.  Every fall, She shows up as a complete surprise and today was the day.  Each year, She reminds me that, just when you’re not expecting it, Life will waft something beautiful your way.}

It happened yesterday afternoon. I was being followed. I could feel it.  You know how you just know? It started at N. Highland and Virginia Avenue and continued all the way to Zonolite Drive – a distance of about one-and-a-half miles.

A mysterious presence drifted in through my car’s open windows, enveloping me, then surrounding me, then holding me captive.  My nostrils flared as I slipped deeper and deeper into a mesmerized state, but – what could I do?

I found myself hopelessly entranced by its power and magnitude, but I had to keep driving. To lose control at the wheel would have been dangerous. I looked into my rear-view mirror.  Nothing.  Nobody.  Nowhere – in any direction. This was a familiar experience,  an olfactory déjà vu. I had been here before, that much I knew. But I couldn’t place The Where and The When.

“Whaaa……?” my eyelids drooped. my brain dug around inside itself.

“What is………?” my memory vault creaked.

“What is thaaaa…………?”  i swerved a little to the left. the vault cracked open.

“Ooooooohhhhhhhh… OH! Now I remember!” then, the vault burst.

Sweet Olive! It was Sweet Olive!

How could I have forgotten? I love you so!

Sweet Olive, that exquisitely engaging harbinger of autumn, made its first cameo appearance in my life this afternoon, breezing across the stage of the changing seasons; meanwhile, Summer was lingering around the heavy velvet curtains, an ingénue uncertain of when to take her final bow.

A Special Envoy sent by Mother Nature, Sweet Olive’s blossom is a mysterious interloper, a siren whose mission is to lull us away from our attachment to summer. In all of her invisible magnificence, Sweet Olive sidles up to Summer, then… plucking a flower from her hypnotic bouquet, She extends it to Summer, who lowers her eyes. “Another season impeccably performed,” Sweet Olive reassures her.

“Same time next year?” Summer beams at her glowing review.

I never know when Sweet Olive will show up with her atomizer and spritz me into a state of olfactory animation. I never, ever tire of her and I never, ever want to let her go. Each breeze wafting by, accompanied by her melodic fragrance, is received as a gift that feels brand new each time.

And aren’t those the best gifts of all?

There’s No Place Like Home

by sandra on August 15, 2017

“I used to be a journalist”, I told the Stranger. “Now I’m a writer.”

 The Stranger thought for a moment. 

“That’s interesting,” he said. “Because a journalist is something you do…..but a writer is who you are.”

When I sat down at the keyboard to craft this, the final piece of my 30-day spree, a feeling of comfort coursed through me. Over these past 30 days, I’ve discovered/re-discovered that “there’s no place like home”- and, for me, home is writing.

Judy Garland

I’m proud of the work I’ve created. With the exception of four pieces from my memoir, “The Corner of Burch and Grace”, all pieces were crafted on the spot, once I sat down at my keyboard.

Besides having the gift, the skill, and the inclination, a writer must possess two, important qualities: independence and the ability to be alone for long periods of time.

I’m thankful that, even though I love socializing and people in general,  I’m naturally inclined towards solitude. Since childhood, with a powerful mother as my role model, I have been fiercely independent. When my brothers abandoned me on our Sunday walks to church in favor of cigarettes and other boy-mischief, I kept going by myself. I went to the public pool by myself,  ice skating by myself, movies, travel, pursuits of all kinds. I have never waited around for anyone.

An astute acting peer, who barely knows me, once commented, “You’re the  lone wolf. You left the pack a long time ago and you’re never going back.”

“The better to stand back and observe you, my dear,” I thought.

A writer must be able to be comfortable with solitude, for is there any other pursuit more solitary than writing? I sit still and the history of the world and knowledge of all things pass through me. I am the richest woman on earth.

I received an email yesterday from a client. “Why is writing  so tedious?” she whined. “Every word must be clearly chosen……”

That’s what writing IS. That’s what a real writer DOES. That’s what I LIVE for. Anyone can write a shitty first draft and walk away.  But, mastery lies in the searching and the choosing of the right words, the chiseling, the attention paid to the movement and placement of those words, the caretaking of melody, rhythm, and punctuation.

This spree has been a springboard into the completion of my next project: a memoir about mental illness and two heroines’ journey.

My writing teacher, Jack Grapes, told me one day, several years back, “You came to this life to know, Sandra. You came to witness.”

Yes, I did, Mr. Grapes. And, my gratitude is deep for this gift that will keep me occupied and engaged for all the rest of my days.

And, I’m grateful to you if you’ve chosen to support me and my efforts over these  past 30 days.


All There, In Black And White

by sandra on August 14, 2017

{This story took place in 1968; hence, my use of the word “colored”, to maintain authenticity.

 Several years ago, I read this story at a poetry reading at Callanwolde Arts Center, here in Atlanta. The audience that evening was comprised of at least 50% black men and women.

At the end of the night, when I was walking out, a man approached me. “Thank you for that story,” he said. “It reminded me of a story from my own childhood. And that it only takes one, good, white person to make a difference. I’m sure that little kid never forgot you.”}

I was in fourth grade.  He was in kindergarten.  He was the only colored kid in all of Winchester Elementary.  Every morning he stood alone in front of his house waiting for the school bus to pick him up.  He lived so close to the school that he could have walked, but he was only five years old and there was no sidewalk.

We became friends.  He was a cute little guy, with his fluffy afro hair and beaming face.  I saved a spot for him next to me and we sat together every day on the short ride down Harlem Road to the front door of our school.  We talked and giggled and we grew to love each other.

One day, our school bus stopped in front of his house. He wasn’t standing outside so we waited. He didn’t come out. We waited a little longer. He still didn’t come out. The bus driver drove off.

Many of us kids kept our eyes peeled on his house while the bus driver pulled away. Suddenly, the little guy appeared, running up the road after our bus at the fullest speed his five-year old legs could muster.

We kids who spotted him yelled out to the bus driver to stop. The bus driver pulled over and stopped. Then he pulled the lever to open the school bus doors.

The little guy leapt onto the bus, panting and sweating. His Jesus-on-the-cross necklace was twisted and one of the latches on his Flintstones lunchbox had come undone.

Elephant-size tears were running down his face. He ran directly to me, dumping his upset body onto mine and burying his face deep into my pea coat.  My red-plastic change purse dropped to the floor.

Everyone on the bus was silent, except for Mark Dosier, who was standing in the aisle next to our seat.

He peered down on us, his face stoney and tight.  I looked up at him, clutching the little guy in my arms.

“Nigger lover,” he spat.