Life’s Pollution

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We all know both genetics and environment play an important part in who we are and what we become. It is not the complete story, of course, but important enough to give us the life tools that we eventually use to live up to our potential or, on the other hand, sabotage, or destroy it.

Genetics we can’t control, not just yet anyway, and the reality is that we and our children have no control over our environment until we are either old enough, or strong, or smart enough to make independent choices to remove ourselves from any negative situation that life has caught us in, or that others in our bag of marbles have created. Even if we lived alone on an island, our environment matters because our mental and physical survival depends on our outlook. Survivor or Victim.

If someone would have given me a book while raising my children and said, “This is how you do it.”, it wouldn’t have mattered. The reality of the adage,”It does take a village”, is so true. But if there is a dysfunctional human force within that unit, the environment becomes polluted and all goes awry.

My children and I were caught in just such a vortex, not of our own doing. As those of you who are familiar with our story, my late husband was diagnosed in his late forties with acute paranoid schizophrenia. As a result, my children and I were caught in his distorted mental web, resulting in extreme dysfunction within our “family village.”

At the time, my mind was always in the torturing present and I had no thought about what it was doing to my children who were innocent bystanders to the chaos. I have often wished I had done things differently, but, unfortunately, I had not the skills to handle what was being thrown at me. Just the genetic strength and faith to get us through it all. I know now, that without that, I could have easily crumbled.

All of this has been on my mind this past year, because the older I get I seem to think of my children a lot, feeling so blessed that they have walked through the fire whole and are giving back to others in a good way. They are great parents, have strong moral values and healthy work ethics. I do feel grateful, because, under the circumstances, it could have gone another way.

This blog post has come about because I have been thinking lately of all of the terrible acts of violence by young people in this country with undiagnosed, untreated mental illness. Schizophrenia shows up in brilliant, achieving youngsters in their late teens or early twenties. Unfortunately, they can go under the radar until it is too late for them to silence the demons in their heads.

If this country can do anything to stop the violence that is happening too often, it is education about and treatment of mental illness. Let us erase the stigma. It is not guns in the hands of responsible citizens, but the mentally ill people who have access to them. The first thing the police did when my husband’s mental illness was diagnosed, was to remove his hunting rifles from our home.

Let us parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, religious leaders and grandparents in our “villages” be educated and aware of mental illness and the reality that, truly, mental illness knows no social level.

Putting our heads in the sand concerning mental illness, and not recognizing that in this country it is a growing threat to our way of life, is inexcusable. With the stresses all around us, it is not going to get any better any time soon unless we act.

Please check out my charity of choice: THE BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR RESEARCH ORGANIZATION.
http://www.bbrfoundation.org
enews@bbrfoundation.org

OH THOSE ’70’S

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I received a photo and text from my oldest daughter on Tuesday that at first made me laugh, then whisked me down memory lane forty-two years and just as quickly, jerked me into the present and just on the cusp of shedding big whopping mama tears on my iPhone.

Maybe it was because it has been raining for three weeks, or maybe it was because my husband inadvertently forgot how to read labels and put a lethal amount of pepper in our spaghetti sauce, or maybe it was because I had a milestone birthday last week, or maybe it was because I am beginning to have unexpected moments of mourning my youth. I don’t know and, honestly, really can’t explain the sanity of a picture of sheets putting me over the edge. Sheets!

But something real definitely triggered emotions within me seeing those “oh so 70’s” psychedelic sheets. The very same sheets that I bought for the girls’ twin beds when we moved to New Jersey. The ones that the pink and orange crazed decorator in me loved so much. And you guessed it, I just had to continue the theme by buying extras to make curtains.

Maybe those sheets reminded me that I was once young, hip and full of surprises. They reminded me that the children are gone, grown and on their own. No more bedrooms to decorate, clothes to pick up, or beds to make. How fast it all went. And where oh where did that 70’s girl go?

P.S. Yes, I still do have one. I use it to carry leaves to the leaf pile in the fall.

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STICKY STAMPS

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He looked so tired, as if his last burst of energy had left his body a long time ago. His physicality reminded me of the elegant Nubians I had seen in Egypt.

Last Sunday Arthur and I had hopped aboard the jitney that would take us to Lincoln Road for a stroll along the shops, flea market stalls and farmers markets. It is on this jitney that I encountered the weary traveler.

He sat sideways, giving me a view if his hard hat. Small stickers of butterflies and turtles were placed in childlike angles on his hat. Stickers that I recognized from those my grandchildren would stick all over anything that was not moving.

Hesitant to invade his space on the almost empty bus, I couldn’t help but eject myself into his silent space because he looked so weary, so alone.

“Did your children put those stickers on?”, I asked just a little above a whisper, hoping I wasn’t offending him.

He turned and looked a me and in a quiet recognition of my interest in his hat, shook his head up and down.

“You know they love you, don’t you?”

My words seemed to float into the empty space between us. Hanging. Silence.

And then in his weary voice he lowered his head looking at his weathered hands in his lap and replied so quietly, “I hope so. I hope so.”

I wanted to assure him, but I just smiled in reply. I wanted to tell him I know so. This grandma knows when your children or grandchildren put their precious stamps on your things, it makes you theirs to keep. Each time you look at those stickies, a part of their little souls will travel with you no matter how far. Smart little critters. All of them!

STAR CROSSED LOVE

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It is really true when it is said youth is wasted on the young. When I was 17 I was emotionally arrogant with selfish dreams of leaving my hometown and my life there far behind me. I achieved my goal by going far away to college and saying goodbye to everything, including my boyfriend. My shame in this is that I didn’t tell him. I neglected or maybe just didn’t have the heart to tell him, my dreams were beyond a life in Steubenville. He thought I would be back.

But that is not the worst of it. I wrote him a “Dear John” letter from college about six weeks into my first semester. I didn’t know he had already bought a ring to surprise me at Christmas.

Hindsight eventually allowed me the privilege of seeing that I was young and just plain selfish and really, really stupid and above all, extremely insensitive. And that is not the worst of it.

A few weeks after that letter I awoke from a horrible dream that my boyfriend was driving at night down Market Street Hill, the main artery into our downtown, and was hurt in a terrible accident. The dream was so real, it was hard for me to shake off, so when my brother came to visit me from his college the next weekend, I told him about my dream.

“Sandra. It happened. I didn’t want to tell you, but he was drinking and had an accident just like you described.”

And so, my guilt about my letter and breaking this nice boy’s heart with my careless attitude about our relationship began and has never left me to this day – of being responsible for his physical and emotional hurting.

I did see him that Christmas, but only once and never again. I was told that he owned a business and finally married a local girl and had two children. Knowing him, he probably forgave me. I am sure I was the farthest thing from his mind two minutes after he met and fell in love again. But I have never forgiven myself.

This morning I got a message from my cousin that my high school boyfriend died this week. On my birthday.