Victoria Alert: Regarding “The Call” With Halle Berry


I was going to have a lovely night here at Barnes and Noble with Rachael putting together a picture book of our recent cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. It was terrific! I have some great pictures for you guys to see of the magnificent boat and some wonderful, different places on the planet. Some of the simplest ones are the best. For example, ever notice how scary it is too look over the pier anywhere on Manhattan Island? Someone once told me you were only safe if you got a hepatitis shot before swimming! Contrast that to this:

Running with the "Silent Girl" pirate crew to see the turtles at Tortoise Cove

Running with the “Silent Girl” pirate crew to see the turtles at Tortoise Cove

 

 

Ah! Go swim anywhere! From a pirate ship in Saint Thomas.

But that’s going to have to wait until tomorrow.

Those of you who have been with me for a while know that I’m contemplating going back to school for a doctorate. Abnormal neuroscience has held a fascination for me for years. I’ve been steeped in the ‘normal’ (Ha!) for decades. Now, I want to see if I can make a contribution toward catching the likes of Dylan Klebold or Adam Lanza.

I also like the fact that we are all pretty much in the same boat, as far as the hard cards we get dealt in life. Sure, I’ve had an unusually bad run, but if something traumatizing hasn’t happened to you, just wait a bit. Someone is going to abuse you, one of your addictions will get the better of you, or someone will die.

Here’s the good news, it’s doable.

Several columns ago I wrote about PTSD and an experience that I had that was essentially ‘retraumatizing.’  (“Jeff Mackleby…”) In a fascinating study of the etiology of PTSD stressors Julian D. Ford  describes education, reading ability, and a belief in ‘self-efficacy’ to have a tremendous impact on the lowering of ‘retraumatization’ among PTSD survivors.

 I think that’s pretty damn cool. 

In essence, if you read well, like school, and believe that you can help yourself and others, you can make a difference the the lives of others. I come out pretty strong in all those areas.

So here we go.

Halle Berry on the set of "The Call".

Halle Berry on the set of “The Call”.

 

Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin are simply terrific. They’re two of my favorite actresses, so I thought it would be a fun way to spend an evening with Rachael, followed by a trip to Barnes and Noble.

(SPOILER ALERT!) “The Call” is a story about how a 911 police officer responds to a lethal call. Berry plays the police officer in the 911 call center (The “Hive”) who receives the call of a teenager who is trying to avoid the hands of a home invader.

She doesn’t. She’s murdered in her little-girl bedroom, and the invader goes on about his business. Berry’s character hears everything, and is brutalized. (Some of you are getting a gut reaction right now. Good for you.)

Halle’s character is a decent human being, so is realistically depicted as being traumatized by this event.

Six months later, the assassin strikes again, and Berry’s protege  takes the call. Berry is now a trainer, and her newbie replacement can’t figure out what to do when Breslin’s character is abducted from a mall.

What follows is a tense cat and mouse game between the killer of the previous call, Berry and Breslin’s teenage character. Berry is exceptional and Breslin is really coming into her own.

It’s a tightly woven, edge of your seat tale, and very, very realistic. Breslin very nearly loses her life, as does Berry.  I had my eyes glued to the screen, and at one point found tears running down my face. What the heck?

Well, duh. I have three teenage girls. This could be any one of them. Probably has been one of yours, my precious reading audience. Why look at a story that sets your thoughts in such a negative direction?

So if your loss still gets to you, if you still feel the pinch of pain in your gut when you hear accounts of other people’s trauma, don’t go see “The Call.”

All the best, my forward looking friends.

Much love,

Victoria

 

 

 

 

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Frankly My Dear, It’s All About the English- Saint Maarten


The first time I ever took a cruise, and I believe the total now is up to three, I noticed there was a definite pecking order according to skin tone.

Seriously, the darker the employee, the farther down on the ‘great job’ ladder they would fall. Nigerians and Jamaicans were room stewards, hall sweepers, Norwegians and Finns crewed the the boat.

On the Allure, though, I noticed this got a little scrambled. For example, there’s a perky species of human known as the ‘cruise director’. Ours was a balding, energetic multi-talented dude of about forty. Stocky and oozing charm, he’d extol everything from salsa dance lessons to jewelry classes. Then, he’s get on stage to warm up the crowd before shows, and give a good rendition on a guitar of some lame eighties song in a dorky getup, eliciting some pretty good laughs.

Last night I sat with Christopher in the last (clean) comedy show of the night, and the cruise director bounced on to the stage and started with his intro. Maybe because I was worn out, but it took me a beat to realize he was as black as the Caribbean night.

“Huh?” I turned to my son. “Did he change nationalities?” This guy was a doppleganger for the white dude, with some serious sun exposure!

As the kids (#portableparty) and would gad about these various excursions and places, I got to tell them stories about things their father and I would do, and the very cool people we would meet. 

See, when Chris and I first started teaching, it was English to Speakers of Other Languages. (ESL) What a great job. We are lucky to live in the most adventurous country in the world, and people still clamor to get here.

English is still the ticket to movin’ on up, it seems.

Now, our adventures are bulkier, costlier, and much, much more satisfying. See, to me, a sabbatical or a break is not so much about relaxing as it is about difference. Differences in relationships is especially fascinating to me. 

In Saint Maarten, for example, it was a riot to educate these kids about advertising. When I advertise any of my business, I do all the usual stuff. Print, paper, realtors, all kinds of things. In Saint Maarten, if someone wants to braid your hair, sell you a t shirt or a beach umbrella, they plant themselves firmly in your path, intrude in your personal American space bubble, and ask. I find that hilarious. But it’s effective! You want a T shirt, Selene has three for ten bucks. Beach Umbrella? Verizon has nothing on the local network of ebony folk signaling each other a block away.

The beaches of Saint Maarten are unmatched. White powdery sand and the distinctive Caribbean blue, it’s what they have to sell. Who can blame them for getting in your face to make a living?

Running with the "Silent Girl" pirate crew to see the turtles at Tortoise Cove

Running with the “Silent Girl” pirate crew to see the turtles at Tortoise Cove

So I rent their boat and tip them to take me to a cool snorkeling spot. I pay for Christopher to discover how wild it is to hover next to a barracuda. I chat up the lovely French diver and her boyfriend, and discover that there actually is a niggling, sneaking appeal to chucking it all and living in the islands. Maybe for a little while.

Dialects and code switching are especially great to watch.

See, the white folks who chuck it all and come down here to live rarely get the island patois.

But to listed to one black-as-night islander talk to another is just like music. I can make out a few words, but mainly, get carried away on the tones and the flow of the sound.

I mean, for all I know, they could be saying “Let’s take the white lady for all we can, and laugh about it when the giant boats leave. ”

 

Ha! But I don’t think so. The islanders on Saint Maartan strike me as pretty universal. Ordinary folk with families and lives, doing the best they can with the tools they’ve got.

Great day in Saint Maarten.

Much love,

Victoria

The “Allure” of American Excess


“Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.”

This famous phrase is attributed to the  first century Roman poet Juvenal. In context, Juvenal is displaying his contempt for the slide of contemporary Romans into a culture of decadence, rather than historical political involvement. This could be interpreted as ‘the richer and more distracted the citizens feel, the less trouble they’ll cause.’

This is utterly fascinating to me, as a single parent trying to guide these four kids into responsible adulthood.

Gaze upon this mountainous thing with me, for a moment-

This is the biggest cruise ship on the planet, currently. It's size is eclipsed only by a single aircraft carrier and another oil tanker.

This is the biggest cruise ship on the planet, currently. It’s size is eclipsed only by a single aircraft carrier and another oil tanker.

The craft next to it is a cruise ship from the “Princess” line, and we are docked side by side at Saint Thomas, USVI.

Really, it’s just sort of staggering, don’t you think?I find myself whistling “Down in the Valley” when I walk between ships when they are docked. I mean, I can barely see the sky.

This thing is so gigantic I’m mindful of things like BASE jumps and rappelling down mountainsides when I walk beside it.

So, a bit of history. When Chris and I started our parenting journey, we decided that we didn’t want our children to be happy, we wanted them to be good. Really “Happy” is such an first world notion. I don’t give a plugged nickel if my children are ‘happy’. Just the word is insipid and annoys me. Any parent with more than two brain cells to rub together can get that ‘happy’ is fleeting, and ‘good’ is forever. Why? “Happy” can change if I trip over a shoelace and break my wrist. (True story)

But “Good” lasts. “Good” takes risks. “Good” says to the hurting woman at the well, ‘Yes, you can have any extra that I don’t need. My children are fed and clothed, I have a surplus, it’s yours.’

“Good” looks at the destitute cancer victim and says “Of course, you can stay with me. Yes, you may use my things, and get whatever measure of peace you can find to rebuild some strength for this battle you are waging.”

“Good” says to the college student “Think! You have a magnificent brain! Weigh what your professors tell you, form your OWN thoughts and convictions, develop your OWN identity! You can do this. ”

“Good” looks at it’s children and says “Cause trouble. Don’t be distracted by bread and circuses. Stick up for the rights of those who have less power than you. Question your peers, don’t go with the affluent flow.”

So, what are we doing here? Really, it’s kind of hilarious. Here’s one reason: “Traveling Feet”

I want these kids to have a sense of wonder, and wanderlust. The world is a magnificent place, and they can make it better.

I want these kids to have a sense of wonder, and wanderlust. The world is a magnificent place, and they can make it better.

We took a day trip in Nassau to snorkel a spot called “Rainbow Reef.” There’s wild country under the surface of the waves, and these mountain children rarely see it.

Here’s another reason. You folks remember my brother selling his manuscript “The Old Man and the Harley ” to Thomas Nelson a couple of years back? (Go to Amazon and get it, it’s great. )

Tradition and identity. Riding Harleys is a wonderful part of John and Dad’s history. How cool to honor that like this?

John and Dad got a grin out of this one!

John and Dad got a grin out of this one!

This is emblematic. As parents, we forget that we ask a lot out of our kids. She's weary, and so are the others.

This is emblematic. As parents, we forget that we ask a lot out of our kids. She’s weary, and so are the others.

So here we are on this towering shrine to excess. The Allure is a techological marvel, It holds several thousand passengers, and over two thousand service personnel.

It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. The service is impeccable, the food superb, the shows of the highest quality, and the staff seems to be either authentically friendly or extremely well trained.

Our first day was in Nassau, Bahamas. We chose to spend it largely on another boat, speeding out to a good local dive spot.

All of my kids are experienced divers, and have been snorkeling since about age 5, so this was nothing new. It’s funny, I could see them chomping to be let loose to explore the boundary waters, but they could see that would likely tick off the people who’s responsibility it was to keep them safe.

“Safe” is as much of an irritant to my kids as it is to me. I think it was Lucy who once asked Mr. Beaver if Aslan the Lion was ‘safe’ (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis) “Of course not. ” replied Mr. Beaver. “But Aslan is good.”

Exactly. If I can teach my kids, in the middle of all this opulence, that ‘safe’ is not the equivalent of ‘good’, I will have continued to succeed in my parenting.

On this trip so far,  I  continue to have undistracted talks with the self-directed young adults these kids are becoming. It’s a beautiful thing.

Yep, that's rum punch you see in their hands. In the VI the drinking age is 18, and what a great way to get them to display any mysteries this drug might have for the.

Yep, that’s rum punch you see in their hands. In the VI the drinking age is 18, and what a great way to get them to display any mysteries this drug might have for them. Coke for Ray, of course.

I think the best reason to be here has to do with identity formation. Now is a critical time for all these kids to figure out who they are. The death of Chris was a terrible blow to this process, and it’s a very real lack.

So I cast around mainly for time. When I am at home, the demands on my time are pretty big. My job, my sick dad, and Rachael being at home are my main time expenditures, and it’s OK. But, with four kids, it’s pretty much an odds game that someone is going to need some parental input, right this instant.

Running a family is definitely a two person job.

But it is what it is, and I run around finding as much undistracted time to pour into these kids as I can. It helps.

Here are some of the knotty problems to untangle:

Faith is a junior this quarter. Yes, she just graduated last May, but DU finally processed all her honors, AP and additional collegiate coursework. She also obtained a research fellowship with a doctoral student. Med school is screaming down the tracks.

Christopher is really into his construction management studies. Many of the major companies offer internships around the country. Take one in some other part of the US, or part of the globe, for six months or so?

Abi might transfer to Savannah or Manhattan next year. This kid is remarkable, but that’s a big step, and she’s nervous about being away from everything she knows.

Rachael is just taking these first steps, and is dealing with a culture at EHS that frowns upon accomplishment. How to help her without transmitting my own cynicism toward American public school?

If you’re a person of faith, pray for me. This is a ton of work. If you’re my friend, buy me a Starbucks. 🙂

If you’re a single parent, shoot me back some advice, as soon as you can. I could use it!

Saint Maarten tomorrow!

Much love,

Victoria

 

Dear Diary- My Heart is a Traitor Bastard


I lifted that line directly from a Bird Martin essay at everyonehasastory.me. Go check it out, Bird is awesome.

With all the good things that surround me, why do I have such a hard time letting go of the ugly?

With all the good things that surround me, why do I have such a hard time letting go of the ugly?

So, I try really hard not to burden you people with angst-ridden, obsessive stories that cloud my judgement from time to time. But here it is , midnight on the day before I am to board a beautiful cruise boat with my four adorable, hilarious kids, and I am stewing over a petty rejection.

I have things to do, like printing out cruise boarding documents, and fleshing out a series of really cool essays I’d like to bring to you folks as we go along this trip.

I guess I would call this a “Piano Man” moment, you know the song where Billy Joel goes on about how stuck he is in a bar, where people put bread in his jar, and say “Man, what are you doing here?” This is utterly ridiculous, so here goes.

You folks know that I am still going to this older singles group at Mission Hills Church in Denver. I very nearly blew it off, as some of the relationships there were simply disguised napalm. But the silver lining was that I learned, as a single woman, how to handle destructive people in my life, and I did it without that benefit of a spouse. When I look back on it, that’s actually pretty cool. Mel Curtis, esteemed life coach, reminds me of how far I’ve come in my judgement since then. Josh, the pastor at the church, reminds me not to lie to myself. Here’s the lie “My judgement about new friends is simply terrible, I will never be able to make new friends as a single woman.”

Here’s the truth “I made mistakes in judgement. I have the Spirit of God to help me make better choices next time.” And then to write down the number of times since I’ve come to Mission Hills that my judgement has been pretty good, and I’ve made some pretty heartfelt friends.

Even then, that’s not entirely spot on. Another silver lining there is that I have learned that people who are older singles are generally that way for a reason. We have a hell of a lot of baggage to deal with. Every single one of us. The two mistakes I made were with people who were really, really good actors, and who denied any sort of baggage at all. MONSTER red flag for next time, and actually, when framed like that, I’m authentically grateful for the experience.

As I continue making new friends, I can look more clearly at their behavior, and ask myself “Are they acting like they have the world by the tail? Everything is fabulous? Think twice, Victoria. If that’s the case, why are they estranged from their parents? Why do they have no contact with their kids? Why do they have rocky relationships with other people? Hmmm…..”

Chris and I used to talk this stuff over into the wee hours of the night, and I can hardly tell you how much I miss that. He was a very relational person, and figuring out relationships with him was like breathing.

So anyway, back to the Meetup. I post a very friendly, generic greeting to a woman that I noticed had an interest in long-distance bike riding. I make a comment about her posted training schedule for a local ride and inquire if I might join the group.

(We made our first epic ride during the Newkirk Circle of Eights. Thirteen years ago we did Ride the Rockies, a remarkable seven day trek held annually over the wild territory of Colorado. My brother John was 38, my dad had turned 80, and Christopher had turned 8. I was thirty four,so no biggie there. It remains an awesome piece of family riding lore)

So, this woman, we’ll call Peg, took down the post, removed my comment, and didn’t care to reply. I discover, of course, that she’s friends with my mistakes at the meetup. Naturally.

AND what’s worse, that I give the situation any of my attention at all. Enough.

So, with that said, I’d like to tell all of you how much I prize your friendship. This teeny weeny little blog has blossomed into something really cool over the past year or so.

I would like to think that when we visit, I’m chatting with an audience of widows, widowers, people in the middle of loss, or simply isolated folks who wonder where the light is at the end of the tunnel.

I know that bunches of you are simply decent people. People who wonder what it’s like to walk in the other gal’s moccasins, and who stop by here to see what an accomplished, lonely, blessed, bereft, joyful widow looks like.

It’s a privilege to me to share with you the truths I stumble over. Things like there actually is a God who loves us and knows us pretty darn well. Truths that it’s pretty rough out there. Truths that even in the rough spots, life can be pretty damn good.

That said, join me tomorrow as my kids and I board Royal Caribbean’s “Allure”, the biggest cruise ship on the planet.

American excess always holds a great deal of humor for me, some light, and some dark. The “Allure” is a first world joke, from my point of view. It’s size is only exceeded by one single oil tanker, and an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Pacific.

Manufactured adventure like this is generally not my first choice.  Brainless twit that I am, when my three college kids trained the “Mommy Guilt Rays” on me, I’m embarrassed to say I caved.

“Mom! We all have the same Spring Break! How often is that going to happen! We should do something really fun, like a cruise!”

Sigh, the little stinkers. So yes, I caved, and off we go the islands.

I love you all,  and appreciate you listening. Cruise documents are almost done, dreamland, here I come.

Sleep well, friends.

Much love,

Victoria

A Cascade of Divorce and the Better Man Project


Ever wonder what we can do to be better men and women? I’m sitting at my desk, pondering this question even as my heart aches for a little tyke at school.

Over the past month, seven different couples, all friends of mine , have announced their sudden divorces. Fourteen people, twenty  children, and uncountable numbers of relatives and friends are impacted by this tear in the social fabric. Another just announced, about an hour ago.

Really, I can hardly stand it.don't judge quote

As I look over the past year, the variety of relational difficulties simply boggles the mind. Of course, I see more than most, given that my business is helping families. But what ever happened to being the better man? Being the woman who rises above? Being the person to whom marriage vows actually mean something? The one who can grant your partner mercy?

I have some people I’d like you to meet in this column. Three different couples, all dear friends of mine. Then, Evan Sanders of The Better Man Project, but we’ll get to him later.

First off, Tanesa. Tanesa is Jamaican, and a wonder to behold. Her family immigrated here when she was a baby, poor as church mice. Her mother did the usual hard working immigrant things, while her dad, an acupuncturist, cleaned floors for a local Safeway. Tanesa was brilliant. She played the cello in a local orchestra, and won a full ride scholarship for med school at 17.

Tanesa is now a trauma doc, and her husband of six years is a medically incapacitated agoraphobe. In English, that means he experienced several traumatic blows to the head, which resulted in a debilitating  fear of situations that he might find hard to escape. Mitch is a great guy, and didn’t start out that way. A gung-ho financial advisor, he was cutting trees on his property up here when he fell off a ladder and knocked himself so hard on the head it took him a couple of days to wake up.

They had a baby boy at the time, who now comes to my school. Mitch cannot work for pay, his moods are unpredictable and he cannot consistently be trusted with the little guy. You can’t tell by looking at him, it often works like that with brain injured people. Still, he knows he has to fight for a normal life, and he doesn’t give up.

Many women might look at Mitch, and say to themselves “I’m 36, able bodied, can have more kids, and I certainly did not sigh up for this.” But Tanesa is tenacious. And hopeful, and committed not just to Mitch, but to the better woman she wants to be. “In health AND sickness” was what she promised, the better woman doesn’t just cut and run.

Neither did Elizabeth Ann. “Annie”, as we know her here, has an adult child with her handicapped husband Martin. Marty was a musician when they were younger, and no one really knows what went south for him. As the years went by, he became less and less predictable. His behavior became erratic, but his body was fine. He experimented with drugs, undiagnosed bipolar patients often do that.Eventually, his depression became so crippling that he left Annie for a while.worth it quote

A fine doctor at a public clinic identified what was wrong, and eventually found the cocktail of meds that helps Marty stay on an even keel. He works odd jobs and pickup work, and Annie keeps several local buildings clean and shipshape after hours. She never would have dreamed of leaving him, she loves him and her vows meant something. A better woman, to be sure.

Now meet FC. I got a call from FC’s partner today informing me that they were moving west as soon as possible, because FC had cheated. Partner’s voice shook into the phone, the betrayal and angst were palpable. Partner was blindsided. Life was good, jobs were stable, partner had no idea that FC was straying from the marital fold.

Partner was going to make FC as miserable as possible, starting with complete denial of contact with the preschooler at my school. My stomach sank. As always, the children will pay.

What’s up with this? When did “I Love You” mean “I Love You Until It Gets Hard?” Marty and Mitch have prodigious needs, to be sure. So does FC. Show me a ‘need-free’ human and I’ll show you a liar. What happened to men and women with “stout hearts?” Annie and Tanesa can’t be the only ones. FC’s partner could be one, if both sides were willing to be the better person.

It’s been two years since my husband withered and died, and I still get the exasperating “I don’t see how you do it!” exclamations. This is especially exhausting from the Christian crowd I usually run with. See, as a Christian, I believe it is the Holy Spirit that lives in my heart that gives me the strength to get up in the mornings. Lots of women in my position pull the covers up over their heads, it’s a lot safer there, after all.

work asses off quote

But ultimately it’s my choice. Mine. Mine alone. Mine to get up and meet the needs of these kids. Mine to let the God of my fathers show me what to do. Mine to sing, dance, run to the east in the morning and the west at night, and let the beauty of Creation wash over me. Mine to set my goals, and exceed them when I can.

Meet Evan Sanders of the Better Man project.

http://thebettermanprojects.com/.

Evan was one of a legion of bloggers who took an interest in my posts during my Sabbatical in a Teacup.

I backtracked to his blog, and discovered an enthusiastic young man with a burning desire to change himself for the better. Read his essays. Like many of the generation that follows mine, Evan is on a purposeful journey of self discovery.

Evan’s essays spoke to many of the reasons why I took my fractured family on the Sabbatical. Fear was a great one. As many of you know, adventure travel was an important part of our family culture.

I was paralyzed with fear that adventure travel was gone forever from our lives. I simply couldn’t handle all the details that come with planning a huge trip with five adults. I would fail somehow, and that gut-level certainty was arresting.

One thing that people like Evan like to address is the whole idea of ‘following your heart’, or ‘listening to your gut.’ There is a grain of truth to that, but largely I find that pretty funny. I think Evan and I are on the same page, but if I had listened to my gut about my job, my abilities, or many other things after Chris died, I’d be living in a cave somewhere. I have found it’s only a good idea to listen to my gut when it knows what it’s talking about.

Annie and Tanesa have very well educated ‘guts’. They slowed down. They listened, they heard their partner’s needs, then, they very deliberately chose to be the better person. I am honored to have them in my friend circle.

I love FC and FC’s partner too. They’re doing the best they can, but I wish they’d put a rein on their ‘gut’, and listen to their brains for a while. Set aside the tragedy of betrayal, and the colossal fear of rejection. Slow down, listen. You loved each other enough to make a child, what can you do to uncover what was real in your relationship. Go back to the beginning, where you loved each other with abandon, and look at that closely. Maybe, just maybe, you might find some limiting fear, and behind that the partner you once loved.

Take a risk. It’s worth it.

Much love, Evan.

Victoria

Sabbatical in a Teacup: Day Twenty. The Light on the Rock of Gibralter


Driving to Gibralter is a lot like an epiphany.  A ‘Voila!’ moment, even. We started in the early morning fog from Seville, looking for the darkness and the fog to lift. Slowly, the olive groves became more visible, and the  Spanish ‘pastors’ leading their sheep appeared.  What a joy it was to be spinning down the Spanish countryside, watching the light grow like wisdom.

The girls were good sports, not minding another half a day in the car, so that we could see one of the most moving spots on the planet.

The Rock of Gilbralter.

The Rock of Gibralter.

That's the Strait of Gilbralter. It's controlled by the British, and shipping is so important the Brits still maintain a military presence there.

That’s the Strait of Gibralter. It’s controlled by the British, and shipping is so important the Brits still maintain a military presence there.

Morocco is clearly visible in the distance. Tangiers is a a short boat ride away. Hello, Africa!

Morocco is clearly visible in the distance. Tangiers is a a short boat ride away. Hello, Africa

What would we find? Gibralter looms like Hercules over the bay. Morocco and the coast of Africa are visible.   It is a mere 16 miles of calm sea away.  We crossed the border and parked at the tramway, enthusiasm beginning to grow.

On this trip, I have discovered that trade is as necessary to the human condition as, well, perhaps even love. I found it hilarious that I have not been mistaken for an American once, yet as much as I try, first world affluence is difficult to shed.

Tour guides cluster around us, more North Africans come to where we have tea, all trying to trade their services for the contents of our pocketbooks.  The African illegal immigrant problem here is enormous. With Spain in full recession, North Africans don’t get absorbed into the economy as easily as they once were.

No matter, Jesus asks us to share freely, so we do. A jolly Gibraltean, (Yes, they call themselves that) led us behind the wheel of his van, and we spent a genial three hours with his booming British voice regaling us with tales of the wartime history and the tunnels into the Rock.

Stopping to see the Macaques before the caves.

Stopping to see the Macaques before the caves.

A colony of Macaques lives on the rock, and Ronald, our tour guide, was fast friends with the dominant male.

My new buddy, explaining the ways of the world to me.

My new buddy, explaining the ways of the world to me.

He took us to several lookouts, and led us the maze of caves and tunnels built over the years.

photo (27)

The guards to the entrances of the tunnels get to be buddies with the Macaques.

The acoustics in the cave must be amazing.

The acoustics in the cave must be amazing.

There are many really cool things in the caves. One of them is this natural amphitheater where concerts and performances are often held.

The maze of tunnels goes on forever. Gibralter is still used for military purposes, so we couldn’t go to the very top. It was fascinating to run around the caves and see the openings where cannons were inserted. Several hundred cannons could actually fire with some degree of accuracy, and defense embrasures ring the Rock.

The analogies here are endless. Tourism is the main industry here on the Rock, but it isn’t solid. Defense is the main use of the Rock, but it sometimes fails. So what is solid, what can we depend on? The hymnist says “On Christ, the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

The Psalmist says the God is my Rock, in 62:5 and 6

5Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;

my hope comes from him.

6He alone is my rock and my salvation;

he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

The Rock has held a fascination for people since we started to write things down. Hercules killed the Hydra here, Jason sailed through here, and the phrase “Solid as a Rock” is so entrenched in our language, I doubt people know that it refers to Gibralter.

I stood at the lookout, thinking about all the things I’ve learned during the Sabbatical. We go home tomorrow, and I do feel more solid, standing here with the Rock under my feet.

People really aren’t that much different, even though culture may very tremendously. Humans still need things, difference and each other. A life without standing on the Rock of my salvation would be precarious indeed.

It’s been a joy having you along for the ride, my friends. The next entry I intend to introduce some of you to the rest of the world. Clare Flourish, Micheal Lai, Aii, Thane Furrows, Bird Martin, Cjplay, Clarence, Toemailer, The Ancient Librarian, and many many others have kept me company during this trip, and it’s been a blast.

Kids, you’re awesome. Congratulations on a successful semester.  It’s been a joy being your  mom. See you all in Colorado.

Much love,

Victoria

Sabbatical in a Teacup: Day Seventeen. Grenada, Alhambra, and the ghost of Garcia Lorca. Angels, part Four


The Moorish palaces of Alhambra is over a thousand years old. It stands on the top of a hill here in Granada, and is a series of Islamic palaces built for the last Muslim Emirs of Spain. Several hundred years later the Catholic monarchs overran the place, and then it was allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries.

Alhambra

Alhambra

Islamic poets, artists and architects don’t spend a great deal of time on outward appearances, so the inner courtyards, gardens, and facades are really remarkable. Christians could take a lesson from the analogy of inner beauty, come to think of it.

The outside of the Alhambra is kind of boring. But inside?

Gardens constructed for contemplation.

Water everywhere.

Water everywhere.Picture Moorish princesses  dreaming here.Poetry inscribed on the walls to think about.

Rooms with veined windows for the sunlight to gently illuminate.

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It was as if we had traveled backwards in time several months in the calendar. Gardens grew everywhere. We even found roses in bloom.

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The palaces are set high on a hill, with views of the city from all directions. It was spectacular to watch the sun set. 

Yet, there is something eerie about the city of Grenada, and the deserted walkways of the Alhambra.

Perhaps echos of a magnificent civilization that is no more? Perhaps the impermanence of things? Garcia Lorca was shot here in the bloody Spanish Civil war here in the 1930s.

Arguably one of Spain’s most important poets and playwrights, Lorca’s murder in 1936 is matter of controversy here as recently as 2009.

At this road, I am anxious to leave Granada, as it is sad and haunted. Looking for the life of Spain, we walked many narrow alleyways to get away from the larger shops and cafeterias. Here we found Mr. Cortez.

Sr. Cortez, holding my new wooden tea tray, with it's precise Moorish geometric wooden tilework.

Sr. Cortez, holding my new wooden tea tray, with it’s precise Moorish geometric wooden tilework.

He and his son run this tiny little woodshop that makes these wonderful patterned applique wooden boxes, trays and tables. They have a single part time employee, and it was difficult to walk around the stacks of well-crafted inventory.

I watched Faith and the Senor have an animated conversation in Spanish, and the life of the city began to glow again. Grenada is to be found here, in the tiny alleyways and lined faces of Sr. Cortez. Garcia Lorca haunts the libraries and universities, and the history is bloody and sad. But the life if the city is where it usually is to be found, in the faces of it’s people.

 

Chapter Seven: The Coffehouse Angel.

Mom had died earlier that morning. By that time, she needed round the clock care, and thank God she had the foresight to store the funds for such an event.About two oclock that morning, her “awake” care provider heard her make a noise. Not a cough, not a murmur, sort of a noise in her throat. She threw off the lap cover and got off the couch to investigate.

“Carolyn? Are you all right?” April was a gentle soul. She was a widow herself, with several children in their twenties. Truly a unique personality to provide such a service.

“Carolyn? Can you hear me?” She gently tugged on Mom’s nightgown. Mom’s face was still. April ran to the phone and dialed 911. Four and a half minutes later the blazing lights and fire breathing emergency vehicles descended in the driveway. They loaded Mom onto a gurney, oxygen strapped to her face.

The men blazed their way to Saint Marks, a local hospital, where Mom was rushed to through the ER without triage.

Brother John made the terrible phone call.

“Louisa, come to Saint Mark’s. Mom has had a massive stroke” It was three oclock in the morning.

The hollow feeling in my gut reappeared. . This was just to familiar. My sister had made the same same telephone call just eighteen months ago.

“Louisa, Are you awake?Are you understanding what I am saying?”

It was about three thirty by then.

John’s voice broke. “Get in the car now. Mom is on a ventilator, and the doctor’s don’t seem to think there’s much point in doing that, but she can stay on it forever if we want. “ John was openly sobbing now. It’s a terrible thing to hear your brother’s heart break.

I informed the children of what was going on. Thanks be to God they were old enough to stay by themselves.

I gathered them all in my room.

“Children, Nana said for years that she  never wanted anyone to see her when she’s died. She has very likely died now. I am going to the hospital to see her, and I don’t want you to come. “

The girls burst into tears. David Junior sat on the bed, stoic. So sad to have seen so much loss in just eighteen years.

The lonely night was snowy. The road hard, unforgiving. I drove on autopilot.

Nana? Dead? Who would parent me? Who’s the grownup now? Who did I get to go to for support?

Nana was one of a handful of people I knew without a doubt was on my side all the time. Even when I was wrong, I was right. Nana was crochety, opinionated, crabby and full of love for her family from her thinning hair to her arthritic ankles.

I passed a nearby Starbucks.

A ghost of a migraine was forming around my temples. Shit. A migraine. The last thing I needed.

Caffeine! That would help. I pulled in to the store. Thank God it was one of those twenty four hour ones.

I pulled open the door, squinting against the harsh lighting. A bright, cheery barista greeted me. Hundreds of times I had been here, never seen her.

“Hi! What can I I get started for you? “ My gosh, what a greeting so late at night. Or early in the morning. Whatever.

“Grande chai tea, skim milk, steamed extra hot, no water or foam. “

“Great!”She gave me a dazzling smile. “And how’s your day going?”

My day? How’s my day? What to say.  It was four thirty in the morning. Which day?

The truth always works.

“My mother died today.” I could feel my face start to crumple.

The barista stopped what she was doing. Her face took on an unusual glow.

She walked around the counter and put her hands on my shoulders and gave me another beatific smile.“I’m here to tell you something. May I give you a hug? “

“Yes.”

“I ‘m here to tell you that you are loved very much”.

For a moment, I wept, comforted on the shoulder of a stranger.

I got my drink, got in the car and continued the lonely drive. Peace started to creep into my soul.