Needed: A Homo Sapiens Makeover

I wonder if “survival of the fittest” can mean the same thing any longer for humans: You know, be the most likely to survive and to repopulate our species by strength, intelligence, physical traits and technological advances that guarantee more protection from predators and that enhance our ability to be predators. Under the old rules, we have become so fit as to become unfit. We have become “too successful” as we populate the world like crazy and don’t clean up after ourselves. We even have littered on other planets: I felt sad when one commentator explained that the container that held the Mars Ingenuity helicopter had to be left behind on the surface as Mar’s first piece of garbage.

Okay, let me bring this closer to home: The other day I put my mask on, not because of Covid, but because smoke from the Oregon “Bootleg Fire” all of three thousand miles away put dangerous small particles in the air that I was breathing during my late July evening walk. Doing whatever it takes to flourish in numbers has worked great for eons. But now we are confounded to think we voluntarily have to practice restraint. Otherwise the Earth will do it for us with even more severe and/or frequent diseases and disasters. Refraining from maximizing the dominance of our species I think is so much harder than doing the same old same old, because up to now, that has not been the script for survival of the fittest.

Anyone who has tried to cut down on overeating or not use quite as much air conditioning or drive (gas-powered) cars less often knows how hard it is to practice constraints of any kind. And of course we learned all too much about restrictions during the Covid lock-downs. But I was heartened yesterday at a cafe in Havre de Grace, Maryland, to overhear someone say as they passed by the tray with the plastic ware and straws, “Oh, I don’t actually need that straw now do I.”

I think just being aware of how so very unnatural our new behaviors must be is a step toward incorporating them. We would have so much to be proud of as individuals and as a species if we not only go forward with a new and improved “survival of the fittest” plan, but push against all those forces that try to drag us backward to the original version. True enough, ingenuity and launching new technologies are really part of both the old and new scripts, and so there is a fighting chance that we will rise to the occasion by learning how to hold back in some instances, while providing alternatives in others, such as inventing air conditioning that does not heat up the outside air, and new kinds of airplane fuels that do not pollute. May the most considerate and compassionate members of our species, not the strongest, win.

Spoiler Alert to “Encountering The Edge”

In the last chapter of my hospice career book, I imagine I am the one who is dying and baring my soul to an of course excellent chaplain named Darlene. Wait, don’t stop reading, this is not as creepy as it sounds. I even give myself the generous lifespan of making it to my nineties. I will be revealing the ending here, which you most likely can figure out right away anyway (hee hee). Somehow even though I launched this book all of seven years ago, I have been shy about including samples on this blog from that last chapter. Why now you ask, alarmed. No, no, nothing is wrong, I am perfectly fine. But why have I hesitated? This imaginary conversation in Darlene’s skilled hands is so very personal, I wonder now how I had the guts to have included it.

My answer then, as now, is that it addresses the question of what sort of life prompts one to become a healthcare chaplain, which at least is of interest to prospective chaplains and others such as social workers and funeral directors. “Oh come on,” prompts Darlene, “What is the deeper reason you wanted to write about that for?” Okay, I’ll take the bait: “ As a chaplain, I have done my share of the principal task a chaplain has, which is to listen, listen, listen. Now as I reveal my own story, my readers are doing the ‘listening’, which I had very little of in my career, and in my upbringing.” I think, too, the question of career choice is of broader interest. I know that people wonder, because they have asked me out loud, “Why on earth would you want to be a hospice chaplain?” Of course they do not usually say “on earth” but I bet they are thinking it! Getting answers to this sort of query gives people insight into human nature, and into their own search for meaning. What the questioner may really be getting at is, “In my own career choice, have I lived up to my potential? Is what I am doing meaningful? What am I missing about what it means to be human?”

So now I present to you excerpts from the final paragraphs:

“Darlene, …..this whole business (of adversity) has puzzled me so much, because of another question: How come some people are not resilient enough to recover from the damage? You know, I did come to something of an answer for a memorial service I’ll never forget. The man who died was a public figure who himself had suffered multiple kinds of adversity, like poverty, medical problems, and ethnic discrimination. But he flourished and became world renowned. He wrote an autobiography, and he pondered his own resilience just like I’m doing now for myself. Anyway, in my invocation I said, ‘This person seized upon his own internal flame that had been waiting to illuminate his life purpose. Each of us has a flame residing within. It may be sputtering. It may be tamped down by malicious moisture. But with the unfaltering fan of passion, each of our own flames will blaze their way into a most exalted and full and bountiful panorama of light.’”

“You see,” I continue, “this sort of says if too much moisture is dumped on the flame that we all have, then we won’t make it. And believe me; I’ve met plenty of people like that. I pause, thinking of something I read in a John Cheever‘s novel, The Wapshot Scandal, where he talked about such people: ‘We are all ransomed to our beginnings, and for some people, the sum might be exorbitant.’ I then add, “Those people have permanently fallen in a pit and I cannot reach them and pull them out. And sometimes I feel afraid as I think how precariously close I have been many times to tumbling right down into the pit with them permanently and being trapped there. But somehow for some people like me, even a faltering flame can keep on going because of the passion inside there that fans it. Though I guess that still leaves the mystery of where the passion comes from.” (I pause to catch my breath.) I ramble on: “It’s tempting to say it’s from God, but then I don’t understand why some people’s destiny is to have enough passion to overcome the bad stuff while others do not…..”

Then, at the very end, I describe my absolutely final moments:

“I feel myself clutching at these remaining moments of life. Even now, I feel as if you, this room, this house, all the loved ones in it, all my previous thoughts and memories of all connection are receding. Getting smaller as if I were in a train, seated facing the caboose, feeling pulled backwards and ever further away from all of this as the train speeds forward.”

Darlene and I sit placidly in the quiet for a very long time. I take in the small noises in the background as my husband joins us. The wind is rattling the impatient leaves. A lawn mower’s bass voice crescendos and decrescendos as it mows nearer, then further, then nearer again, off and on, drowning out the bird calls—these sounds and movements are richer than any symphony and as dramatic as any action film. I see sparrows in the wake of the mower’s progress go in a jagged line of jumps contrasted with the obedient steady itinerary of passersby on the boardwalk. I feel the rise and fall of my chest and abdomen as I breathe, all of this sensation as infinitely captivating as the exotica of my extensive travels. Quiet places have been my refuge and my meeting place for fanning my internal flame of passion. The silence here is sacred, beheld reverently by us as I prepare to dwell in the burgeoning stillness to come.”

A Truck Named Bertha

Sometimes the most poignant conversations occur in the most unassuming places. During a recent trip to southern Delaware, after traversing cropland after cropland, my husband and I selected a breakfast place in the town of Milton (yes, named after the poet). Called “The Nook,” the restaurant advertises itself as “our neighborhood eatery” and has such things as a hefty glass of orange juice the waitress makes from oranges the instant you order it. This was promising, as it looked like a place that would have friendly regulars, you know, a non-alcoholic version of Cheers.

Seated at his own personal nook way at the very back was a placid gentleman who had his radar out for would-be listeners. It did not take long for him to tell us his life story, including his disease history and how hard it was to be a widower. But then, as is true with many people after they get their initial sources of distress off their chest, tales of more general interest emerged. He talked about another loss aside from his wife, and that was his 1946 Ford pickup. It was a dump truck, designed for hauling away small loads, but when he saw he could use it more for snowstorms, he bought or found snow plow parts that he figured out how to attach to the Ford. So he went around doing odd jobs plowing away snow, which were in more demand than hauling away trash. He was very proud of the new role he had given to this truck, and he even named her Bertha and placed her name on a decal on one of the windows.

As he grew older, it was harder for him to drive, and also more dangerous to do so. His children were worried about that, and so as to remove temptation for him to drive the snowplow, they took it away from him without—God help them!– his permission. He does not know whether they sold it all intact, or whether it ended up as nothing but a heap of parts, long since separated from each other. Not sure if being dismembered was the end of that vehicle’s history, he shook his head at how that was a fate even more unbearable for him to countenance . Hoping for the best, the former owner put ads in the local papers asking if anyone knew about the truck, which could be identified by its name Bertha placed right in the rear window. He asked his friends and neighbors, everyone he could possibly think of in the area, but no one knew of Bertha’s whereabouts. This man, in the nook of The Nook, looked at us and said, “You know, I wasn’t trying to sneak off and drive the truck again or nothing like that. I just wanted to kiss its fender goodbye.”

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Well if you want to meet this fellow or know anything about Bertha, you can get the particulars about the restaurant here: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g34039-d19444964-Reviews-The_Nook-Milton_Delaware.html If you go, be sure to say we said hi.

Cicadas: Fortissimo!

I think any insect-driven blast of sound that happens every 17 years qualifies as noteworthy. Not being fond of insects, it was with a mixture of queasiness and curiosity and awe that during my visit last week to my father-in-law in a suburb of Baltimore, I got to witness the emergence of the cicadas this year. The first thing I noticed were husks on the ground and live cicadas all over the trees and along the siding of the house. Then I took in their high-pitched noise, like a vast set of miniaturized alarms all continually going off in the trees, and unsynchronized at that. My wonderment at a species with such a life cycle and such musicality triumphed over my feelings of distaste.

As my husband Steve and I “waded” through this aural river of “ireek, yee yee ireek yee ireek yee yee yee ireek” during our walk through neighboring Sudbrook Park ( which incidentally, was designed by the same architect most famous for Central Park in NYC, one Frederick Olmsted Senior) we pondered why the cicadas evolved this way. Why is 17 set as their mating timer? We guessed that this number of years was the minimum needed to throw off any would-be predators’ routine. In other words, it makes the cicadas’ availability irregular enough to confuse the predators. “When should we predators show up, if at all? No use coming to an empty pantry.” A cursory search I made later on the Internet showed me that we were generally on the right track. Meanwhile, the surround-sound was so penetrating we could hardly hear anything else, except for our own speech, being that we were right next to each other. The Baltimore Sun wryly notes that the decibel level of these little devils violates city ordinances for other loud things such as power tools and lawn mowers.

We then contemplated where hubby and I were 17 years ago, which was not where the cicadas were. We missed it on account of being in New Jersey and made do with reports of their stupendous numbers. And as we continued our walk, feeling more and more immersed in this separate auditory world, we thought about how old we would be if nothing not too out-of-the-way happened to us 17 years hence, 78 and 81 years old in 2038. Then we spoke of how unlikely we would be alive for the cicadas’ next date in 2055. Maybe just one more single chance for us.

We suddenly took measure of our fleeting passage in the scheme of things. All humanity’s blaming and profaning and proclaiming and exclaiming, sounded all but mute against the imperial sweep of the pulsating waves of sound enveloping us, a conquering chorus at a constant fortissimo.

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For the fascinating history of Sudbrook Park see at: https://tclf.org/sudbrook-park-historic-district . The media gallery successfully captures its “curvilinear streets carefully laid out on rolling topography to produce a pastoral setting.”

For my microblogging, catch me on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/chaplainkkaplan

Loving The Fossil Lucy

I discovered something very disconcerting about good and evil in a novel about a pre-human cluster of families entitled Lucy Lives by Mark A. Weaver. Yes, you got it: the protagonist is named after that Lucy, the famous fossil discovered in1974 in Ethiopia. If only a book like that had been on the seminary reading list I would’ve been fairly forewarned and much more prepared for that congregational jungle out there. To be fair, this novel would be great prep for any venue laden with politics, such as the workplace, academia, neighborhood associations, and of course governments themselves.

The author explains that about 3 million years ago, Lucy and her fellows live in trees and are hairy like apes, but walk like humans. So they are “on the way” to human-hood. At the beginning of the story Lucy ranks very low on the social hierarchy and is subject to the leader’s tyranny. On the first page we read, “Lucy was still new around here, and the others tended to make her nervous. Conflict was common among them, more often than not instigated by their leader Bul…or his horrible mother.” Lucy finds some consolation in reminiscing about the group she was born to, where the leader was caring and helpful. Thus we have here the grandmother of all soap operas.

Throughout the story of Lucy’s life we learn of groups forming and losing members, of individuals trying to become adopted into new groups, of some leaders ruling by greed and intimidation, while others rule by fairness and cooperation. And on top of all that many new things are happening to cause shifts in power. Lucy, for instance, accidentally discovers that she can throw rocks and therefore kill animals for food. This was revolutionary by the way, as getting meat in the diet vastly improved their quality of life because they did not have to constantly forage for food, leaving more time for other things. She first keeps her skill a secret among a very few friends and she starts to teach her inner circle how to throw……See how this sounds like a soap?

So how do good and evil fit in? Weaver um “weaves in” some nonfiction segments between the chapters where he enlightens us about evolution, making this an unusual book for sure. One of his main points is that evolution is amoral. Whatever works to perpetuate a species through reproduction is “successful”. Thus during Lucy’s time, the groups that ruthless dictators ruled reproduced and flourished just as well as the ones ruled by more benevolent types. Maybe even more so. Think unbridled polygamy. And here we are, Homo sapiens, having won out among all the other prehuman species that died out and spreading around the entire world like crazy for eons.

So from a purely evolutionary perspective, good and evil have equal standing. I find that dumbfounding. But it explains so much. Leaders who rule by intimidation and craftiness are so plentiful on our church (temple, mosque, etc.) boards, and at our jobs, and of course in our society’s political arenas, because such rule can be successful in maintaining and expanding power! No wonder it is not easy for good to prevail over evil. Nor is it inevitable that good will win, even though it has been as successful a strategy for group survival.

This is perplexing to take in, as Judaism and other religions I know about at least hope for if not guarantee that in the end, good will be the victor. I wish I had understood the truth about why evil exists to such an extent ages ago. That way I would not have wasted so much energy being surprised and so dismayed about this or that evil situation. I wished I had said to myself, it’s natural, so deal with it. Join the battle against it and no complaints.

I assume my readers too are still cheering for good to vanquish evil no matter how even the score is. And since both can endure, at least so far, maybe we need some way for humankind to experience evil as more dysfunctional and thereby less successful. Come to think of it, this dysfunction is already happening; our collective behavior is making the Earth less inhabitable for humans (among others), which in turn will ultimately no longer lead to “evolutionary success” because we cannot live in a completely polluted Earth.

But there is another ingredient we need in tandem with that, because in the short term, an evil act such as more pollution may benefit a given group through more money and power. What we need is something for the long term, and that is an incentive of some kind to be generous, value creativity, etc. I am no genius to answer here in this scarcely known bloglet what innumerable masters of philosophy, theology and so on have stated over thousands of years. But I want to leave one humble thought: perhaps one character change we need, if we can evolve towards it in time, is an enhanced self-awareness that gives long-range planning and future outcomes more immediacy. This would jolt us into action as assuredly as any imminent threat or imminent benefit. May the good gals and good guys win.

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The book, Lucy Lives: A Novel Look at Early Human Evolution, is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Lucy-Lives-Novel-Early-Evolution/dp/1517653258/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

C’mon, now, after all this heavy stuff, time to have some fun: First, a video of jazzy classical music, or classical jazzy music, by Darius Milhaud on this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bv9ii_uc2Rc

And second, my husband’s humorous short play that was part of a one-act festival, about an apartment in a baseball field: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DFdceWV7rYV4FioJndjYv1hA3Q0Vcro9/view?usp=sharing

And there’s always my microblogging on Twitter: https://twitter.com/chaplainkkaplan

Not Your Typical Summer Job

Despite all the careers I’ve had (at least five depending on how you count, including teaching English in Japan, being a congregational rabbi, then a hospice chaplain, and now Chief Marketing Officer for my husband’s investment company), one of my favorite jobs was the one I had in the summer of 1983. I was a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin majoring in linguistics, and had just been let go from my job of selling bagels on campus shortly after joining their enterprise. Seems I was too overdressed for the image they wanted to project. I did not happen to have shirts with holes in my possession.

I did not want to repeat my other temporary job experiences in Austin such as peeling vegetables in dank kitchens, so I applied to be a security guard at one of UT’s dorms. Given what you might know about me, you may be thinking, how could a sweet girl like you want to take a job like that? Goes to show you honey you never can tell. Turns out the boss had hired me as the first woman to fill this position. Oh, I thought. I am a trailblazer. Little did I dream this would be the precursor to my being one of the first 200 female rabbis in the world when I was ordained in the early 90’s at Hebrew Union College in New York City.

I was to patrol the dorm halls as well as the various levels of the parking garage nearby to protect and defend the vulnerable residents. I especially loved walking around the garage; being up high in the cross breezes was a relief from the Texas heat, and I got to have a terrific view of the stars during my 4 to 11PM shift. Once in awhile I had a friend or two join me for that view. And at the reception area, I was to let in male visitors to the dorms only if they submitted an entry permit to my scrutiny, and only after I called the lady in question to confirm that the visit was desired. I wore a blue uniform (Whew, no issue about how I was dressed), and carried a walkie-talkie where I got to say “Unit One to Unit Two, come in please,” just like on the detective shows. I also was armed with a canister of mace as I bravely went about my duties.

One time, two male youths were vandalizing light bulbs on one of the parking lot floors. I first approached them to ask them to stop, and then discretely reported the incident to my boss on the walkie-talkie. I found out later that he had deliberately sent them up there to see if I would do something about it. Another thing I remember was when he hired another guard to replace one of my peers. When this newcomer made unwelcome commentary regarding my gender, all with alcohol on his breath, the boss got rid of him straightaway. What a great boss! Remember this was in the 80’s. No wonder I liked this gig. He protected me, gave me challenges, and explained that he had admired and therefore hired me, woman and all, because I was more savvy due to my life experiences. Unlike many other UT students, I had lived and worked in El Salvador, Colombia, and Japan.

There you go, all the elements of a rewarding job: adventure, pleasant surroundings, variety, a leisurely pace, exercise, and above all, a boss who respected and appreciated me. Now then: what’s that you were saying to me about the summer job you yourself had when you were a student?

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For more of my writing on a small scale, see me on https://twitter.com/chaplainkkaplan

Capturing A Sunset Secondhand

 

It is one thing to find one awe-inspiring sunset after another in the place they are supposed to be; that is, up in the sky. It’s quite another to find one reflecting off of a steel utility box affixed to some anonymous concrete wall. Photographer Walter Levy chanced upon this scene on the back side of the National Aquarium at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. My eyes keep darting from the lively lines on the wall to the hazy softened bands of light on the box. Each square draws attention to the other, as if reminding me that each one is equally worth seeing up close. The sun is no longer strong enough to be harsh; the darkening crevices on the wall take on a black richness as their harshness recedes. The narrow verticals and wide horizontals are posing their questions to each other and to us. “What do we each give you that neither could alone?” Oh! I espy an unobtrusive keyhole on the right. What if we could open that metal door to get an answer?

Here is what the photographer himself has to say: “There are various ways of looking at this image, chiefly the feelings it evokes, and the ‘technical” reasons it works (composition, complementary colors, contrast between the harsh verticals on the wall versus the soft, pastel horizontal emphasis of the steel panel, etc.) The visual elements beckoned me to the scene, but as a finished piece I’m drawn to its ambiguity: is the bright square a reflection or a window? Considering I made this in July 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, I see this as a portal that allows a glimpse of a happier world. Perhaps images like this arise from my unconscious, containing a message not released until later.”

Walter Levy has been a photographer for over fifty years, gradually embracing the joys and struggles of the creative life of an artist. You can see a wide range of his art on his site, https://www.walterlevyphotography.com/ .

 

For more of my observations, see me at https://twitter.com/chaplainkkaplan

 

Telling It Like It Is

It seems so inconsequential, but from time to time, I still think about an unresolved detail about my retirement from hospice work. It’s been about four months, but the detail persists. Not as much as before, but in a faded out sort of way. Yes, it’s been four whole months like I said, and yes, my supervisor had met with me at the hospice residence so I could turn in the keys and iPad, and yes indeed, I grabbed a few personal items from my office that had sat there since the beginning of the pandemic after I stopped seeing patients and families in person: A dark-green leather bookmark that has embossed gold lettering referring to Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, Georgia with the motto, “third oldest and only Gothic Synagogue in the U.S.”; bargain-sized hand sanitizer; and a greeting card of appreciation written by a patient that said, “Thank you for your help, prayers and conversation. May the Holy Spirit continue to bless and guide you.” The latter was left on my desk by a nurse. And yes, back home I have gained closure by throwing out various pamphlets such as “Myths About Morphine”, “Improved Spiritual Assessment Charting”, and other such scintillating documents. And no, I did not forget to change my status to “retired” at my professional association for chaplains. Oh, yes, sure, of course I told lots of people about it, including readers of this blog when I wrote a couple of posts about it before.

So, what nagging detail is left, you ask? I was not hoping for a retirement party, even if Covid had not been the issue. I fantasized about a departing gift (modest of course, say, worth about $8.00), but did not really expect one. That leaves one thing: at a bare minimum acknowledgment by an upper echelon member of The Administration of my existence and date of departure if not God forbid recognition of my years of emotionally demanding work. After 5 years of service, not even an email of any kind let alone a card in the real mail. Not even a canned text from said administrator saying “thanks for your years of service and enjoy your retirement,” which would have been enough for me to mark my work and exit as having happened for real. This bothered me especially because for a few years prior to this hospice position, the last hospice I had worked for was led by some of the very same administrators. Something in me has felt unresolved without that. It’s like hearing the next to last chord in a symphony without being followed by that final, conclusive one. Or like hearing one of my dementia patients say the first few words of a sentence and then not being able to complete it, as in, “When I was in high school, I couldn’t find….” What a teaser not to learn what he could not find.

Emotionally, it is strange what happens to time when there is no official recognition of going from one phase in life to another. Thus the importance of baby namings, coming-of-age ceremonies, weddings, and funerals in religion, and special events in secular life like the opening ceremonies at the Olympics or an inauguration. In a way, it’s as if those five years were not real in our own dimension, but had taken place in some other one, or were somehow compressed into one point. That, you must admit, is even stranger than time travel.

That so much in life is unresolved is certainly no headliner. But writing about it here and now on Offbeatcompassion has brought me to an insight: We can find satisfaction in a novel or piece of music or an artwork because there is a sense of completion. The story ends, the piece is finished. And what was I doing all those fifteen years (in a total of three individual hospices) as a hospice chaplain? Listening to people tell their stories, which had a beginning middle and end.

In the very act of telling them, these people found a resolution. Some of their stories had no real ending psychologically until I witnessed them. Time after time, my clients told me how much better they felt after they finished speaking. Sometimes no one else had heard them because the clients felt no one would listen, or that people would judge them or not believe them, or that they would feel unsafe or worse from telling it. Or they had luckily been heard, but needed the reinforcement of being heard again by clergy or any other sympathetic professional ear. My hearing them and the others who could do so too provided that last needed element, the listener, who acknowledged the reality of each story without challenging it to be other than it was. Their experience was real to them and recognized as so. The last chord had been sounded.

Right now I am the one telling my own story to you about that detail of administrative indifference hanging in the air. I am hurting because it was my turn to have my story be heard, the one about my having heard the stories of so many others over all those years, including the heart-wrenching tales of grievers who could not be with their dying loved ones during Covid. But now as you my readers are the ones receiving this story about my career of having heard so many stories, I do feel that closing chord. That petty administrative detail is receding further and further from my current concerns. I knew you would understand.

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For my former posts on retiring, including when you know it is time to retire, see: https://offbeatcompassion.wordpress.com/2020/11/16/a-lightness-of-being/

For microblogging, see me at: https://twitter.com/chaplainkkaplan

An Illustrated Excursion into an Alien State of Being

Since the painting below is so arresting, I hope you don’t mind if I ask you to take a good long look at it to see for yourself what it means to you, before peeking at my reaction below and that of the artist herself, Krista Dedrick Lai.

My first impression upon viewing Against the Storm was of cheerful swirls abstractly showing the Sun in the center surrounded with orange sky below and darkening clouds above as it starts to set. Other celestial objects draw us upwards. But then, wait! I see a distressed figure lying down towards the bottom, partly buried. She is just an outline, not a full figure. Is that a defiant foot I see raised up? Will she fight the storm? I am not sure. There is so much of “it” and so little of “her”.

Of this piece Krista herself explains, “As a person living with poorly defined and understood chronic illnesses I am seeking to convey the intensity and contradiction of what I experience internally and externally in Against the Storm as well as in other recent works. I want to create spaces of chaos that feel physically overwhelming to view and take up the viewer’s entire field of vision (72″ x 80″) as a way for them to sense how my physical and emotional experiences feel to me. Although it would be easy to dismiss someone like me as fragile or weak, the inverse is true: there is incredible strength and resilience formed from so many years of being forced to face myself and accept what so many of us struggle to accept; that we have limited control over our lives and that our realities, and indeed ourselves, are always in a state of flux.”

Now that you have not peeked at our comments until after you viewed the work, we would love to hear your interpretations in the comment section.

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Krista Dedrick Lai is a painter and mixed media artist living and working in south Philadelphia. Krista makes energetic, colorful and provocative paintings and mixed media pieces inspired by the energy and architecture of Philadelphia as well as experience as a woman, mother and person with chronic illness. Her work has been shown in a number of Philadelphia galleries such as Space 1026, High Five Gallery and Practice Gallery, as well as galleries in New Orleans, LA, Teaneck, NJ and Wilmington, DE. Krista shares a home with her husband and young son, where she also has an art studio. Her site is https://www.kristadedricklai.com/ and it is chock full of her art.

Winter Whining

I don’t want to be in a quarantine within a quarantine, the outdoors closed to me as well as my home being closed to others, just because a lower level winter godlet came up with the big bright idea of icing the stubbornly remaining mounds of snow with freezing drizzle. I step out to assess the sidewalk for my daily walk. Mmmkay, some mitzvahteer (good deeder) shoveled it without cutting corners. I could actually see the bare concrete itself as if it were getting ready for a sunbath. I get both feet to agree to make their next moves, congratulating myself for not letting a little chill intimidate me into a retreat. But then, after I reach the corner of the block, I stop short. The #@$!% did not shovel the snow away from the corner curb cut! There is a great hulking heap of it blocking my way! (Yes, they did not cut corners, but they did not shovel them either.) What good is it to have all that concrete screaming to me that it is all cleared of every last snowflake so that my undeserving self might indulge in prancing along it, only to thwart my progress once I reach the first intersection? What, I’m supposed to confine myself to pacing back and forth on one block? Or risk falling on ice- encrusted snow by clambering over a mountain range?

The snow on the curb consists of about 5% of the snow that had covered the rest of the sidewalk, more or less. But that neglected 5% casts a shadow on the remaining 95%, rendering it useless does it not? Now let’s think about that together. If someone can’t walk more than a few steps and a driver takes them 95% of the way and no further, that accomplishes nothing more than not to take the ride at all. Be aware of not finishing what you start. And there, my friends, is my profound moral for the day.

And now for the other matter I must bring up. If you are guilty of this, then I hope you feel thoroughly rebuked! Yes, it takes hours to diligently and thoroughly dig out a parking spot after a snowstorm, and yes, some spots are not fully finished (verging on the problem above). But: when I have left my spot, and someone has taken it ( who knows full well I did all that work on it), and THEN I look for another, and I see a good one but which has a garbage can or chair upon the center of it, I want to call the city. I don’t of course. I must not be thought of as a whiner. I just steam with indignation. And I don’t remove the offending object off to the side because the maniac might damage my car for taking THEIR alleged spot and removing THEIR property.

So I haphazardly park in an inferior spot, hearing lots of crunch crunching as I do so as if the car were being murdered. Then I leave, having to choose between clambering over another mountain range at one curb, or stepping up to my ankle in filthy slush at the other. I make it back inside my home as I whine some more at the irrationality and pettiness of others who let mere frozen water, in all of its manifestations, strip away all sense of community and empathy in a cold unfeeling world.