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June 2008


We take risks every day. Some seem more foolish than others.

The other day, for example, I was about to ride my bike home from work, when I realized there was a thunderstorm coming. I figured that a little rainwater never hurts, so I put on the water repellent pants and jacket that I carry in my backpack and took off under rapidly darkening skies.

About a third of the way home, lightning and thunder occurred very close together, and I thought I should find shelter. I saw a man standing in front of his big home, complete with winding driveway and portico, and I asked him if he minded if I stood there until the lightening stopped. He agreed, and he stayed with me for a while. When the wind became furious, the portico was insufficient protection, and he invited me to come in. We found we knew some people in common and we ended up having a nice chat until I thought it was safe to go. I thanked him and left.

However, the thunder and lightning, though less frequent, were not over, and I was feeling a little foolish for not stopping again because there were a lot of fallen branches on the road.

When I turned into my street, I couldn't make my way past the first block because a huge tree had fallen across the road. If I had been there just a few moments earlier, it could have fallen on me.

This time I was lucky.

Missing Muriel

I met my friend Muriel in 1972. At the time I was raising a new baby and a two-year old, working part-time and running a non-profit from home that helped women re-enter the workplace after raising their children.

Muriel was a client. It turns out she had just the skills needed by the place where I was working part-time, and I recommended her for the job. They were smart enough to hire this talented woman as head of communications. And so a wonderful friendship was born.

She was in her late forties with four kids almost on their own and therefore had the experience to solve my crisis du jour, always with good humor and good advice. We got in the habit of walking together at lunch time, sharing air time because kids may grow, but that doesn't mean you're done with their problems.

After several years, I moved on to another job, close enough so that we could continue to walk at lunch time, and we did that until she retired, now many years ago. She moved to Cape Cod, but would occasionally come up on the bus to visit and stay overnight. A big T-shirt and a tooth brush of hers lived in our guest room.

Now in her 80's, a couple of years ago, Muriel lost her husband of 60 years. I didn't even know about it until months later. She dropped out of my life. I missed her terribly, and I didn't know if she herself was ill or why we were out of touch.

This past weekend I mentioned to Peter that I had to find her or learn what happened to her, and I planned to try to contact one of her children for help. As of yesterday morning, I hadn't done so.

But something amazing happened at work. When I picked up the phone in my office yesterday, I heard Muriel's voice. I was almost in tears—so happy to hear from my beloved friend.

She said she hadn't been in touch because she had to get through the loss of her husband. But she has built a new life for herself, living in a retirement community. Her children have been wonderful, and she has made some good friends and is doing some writing. She has rented a little place near her childhood home on the Cape this summer, walking distance from the beach in one direction and the library in the other. She says it's perfect for her.

Once again, I am learning from her experience.

The Cell Phone Challenge

My husband Peter has a cell phone. On his cell phone are a number of unread messages. Fewer than there used to be because he doesn't ever retrieve messages, and therefore I have given up leaving them. (Our children know better than to try to reach him on his cell.) Here's the problem: Peter carries his cell phone with him like the rest of us. But he only turns it on when he needs to make a call!! I've explained ad nauseum that if I needed him in an emergency, I would not be able to reach him. "Oh," he says. But he still doesn't turn it on.

I thought I was the only one with this problem. But a young colleague of mine named Margaret says her mother does the same thing. When Margaret called her mother because she had a flat tire near her mother's home and needed some help, her mother didn't answer. Because she didn't have her cell phone on.

And that story prompted another colleague to talk about her elderly aunt. The grandchildren of the aunt insisted that she get an answering machine. They bought it for her. She had a niece (my colleague) come to help her record the message which says "You have reached so-and-so. You can leave a message, but I won't call you back."

So much for technology.

The Long and Short of It

Tomorrow is the longest day of the year. I love the longest day of the year, except that it means the days are beginning to get shorter again. Other than those who suffer from seasonal affect disorder, I think I welcome the change to Daylight Savings Time as much as anyone. I relish the thought of three months of increasingly longer days plus a couple of additional months that are pretty delightful, light-wise.

On the Cape Cod vacations we took when our children were young, we often headed over to Duck Harbor to watch the extraordinary sunsets—after dinner. Although I ride my bike to work all year round, it's so much nicer to ride home in the daylight. And when we have friends over for supper at this time of the year, I can glance out at our garden and watch the sun set and the shadows deepen from cocktails through dessert.

I've considered the possibility of following the sun. I could live in the northern hemisphere for six months and then head south, way south. Or I could move to Ecuador and live 365 days of spring.

But then I remember that without the dark and dreary days from November through February, I might not appreciate the joy of that first crocus.

Tim Russert

Tim Russert died on Friday. He died while preparing for today's "Meet the Press". He died two days after returning from a family trip to Italy to celebrate his son Luke's graduation from Boston College.

He died "in the saddle," but he died too soon.

Our generation lived through the senseless murders of JFK, MLK and RFK. There is no scale on which to measure which loss is greater, but today I feel Tim Russert's untimely death as a personal loss, as do so many of his admirers.

We looked to Tim Russert for clear reporting on the issues, for cutting through the political morass. We looked for him at the debates, on the network news, on MSNBC and on "Meet the Press" every Sunday morning that we were near a TV set.

He was Boston College's commencement speaker this spring, and when asked that day about Ted Kennedy's just-announced brain tumor, he had no comment.

"Today, I'm just a dad," he replied.


In January, 1999 I learned that I had an 82 year old half-sister named Florence. Apparently, my father had had a family that I knew nothing about before marrying my mother.

I was shocked.

Two months later, I met Florence with whom I share a father, and I have seen her several times in New York City since. I have also met her daughter Amy, my half-niece, who is my age and lives in Minneapolis. Amy has a brother, my half-nephew, who raises sheep somewhere in Oregon. I had not met him until Sunday, when we attended the wedding of Florence's grandson David, my half-grand nephew, whose bride Sarah happened to go to my children's high school.

Now 91, Florence was a star of the event. All the guests on the groom's side were so happy to see her, still looking as beautiful as they remember. She introduced me to everyone as her sister. Her sheep farmer son turned out to be charming and interesting.

Life is full of surprises.

To Tan or Not to Tan

"In the olden days," to use a favorite expression of my four-year-old grandson, summer equaled suntan. I am embarrassed to admit that at my first job after college, an easy walk from my apartment, I had no qualms about racing home on my lunch hour, changing into a bathing suit, spending 20 minutes on the roof of my apartment building to fry in the sun and then hustling back to work.

Let's face it. We look better tan.

We didn't know about bad rays vs. not-so-bad rays then. It was all about tanning oil, not SPF 30.

Then we learned about tanning's potential role in skin cancer and the need for protective creams—be sure to use at least two tablespoons and re-apply every couple of hours. At the same time, tanning salons were attracting the beautiful young folks. Quel dilemma!

The latest advice is that we, especially in the northeast, need some unscreened sun to allow our body to produce Vitamin D.

I do attribute some of my wrinkles to the innocence of my youth. But I still look a lot better when I am tan.

The Iron Lady

Yesterday I sat in an audience of 3,000 people gathered to hear Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf deliver a commencement address. Perhaps not a household name, this extraordinary woman who is Africa's first female head of state, has served as President of Liberia since 2006.

Born in 1938, as part of the so-called "silent generation" she is referred to as The Iron Lady because of her strong will and determination. This grandmother of seven who has been imprisoned and exiled twice is bringing hope and change to her country after 14 years of brutal civil war. The enormous challenges she faces in rebuilding her nation do not daunt her.

In her gentle way, and with a quiet sense of humor, she won the hearts of her audience. She was inspiring. She urged the graduates to go out and change the world.

I think they will.

On Beginning To Be A Mother

I've been a mother for 38 years, as of last Thursday. That's not an unusual accomplishment. But I am astonished by how clearly I recall the details of the last few days of May,1970.

It was a very hot May, and it was hard to make my huge body do much. Back then, women didn't quit work until the first labor pain. I remember thinking that I had this baby inside me, and I would soon hold my child in my arms. But except for learning how to breathe through labor in Lamaze classes, I didn't know much about what would happen in between.

So in the afternoon of May 28, 1970 when I was standing in line at the S&H Green Stamp Redemption Center (remember those?), to pick up a new iron, the pressure in my belly didn't seem alarming. I pretty much ignored it. That evening we ate a big steak dinner (a bad idea that I did not repeat before the delivery of our next child), and we finally decided about 9:00 pm that these pains might be labor.

We arrived at the hospital at 10:00 pm for what turned out to be a very long and painful night. At 7:30 the next morning I held my now 38-year old son in my arms.

It could have been yesterday.