On November, My Favorite Month…

Autumnal Leaves, Autumn, Orange

On November, My Favorite Month…

I was living in Chicago. I stood at the large bay window in my condo and looked out at the Forest Preserve. Fallen leaves covered the ground; the sky was grey.

It was then that I realized that I loved the grey days, their sense of melancholy beauty resonated with me. November in Chicago, grey days. And then November became my favorite month.

It remains so, though in North Carolina those grey days don’t come until December. November, grey days, the birthdays of those I love and those who have wounded me the deepest, Thanksgiving, a time when, bare of their leaves, trees show us who they really are, the Novembers of our lives, literally and figuratively.

I spoke to a woman in her late 80s recently. Her best friend, one she knew since her high school days, had died. She spoke of the loss, not only of her confidant, her friend, but also of someone who knew, and had shared, her history. And that is part of what aging is – losing those we knew and loved, losing those who knew us. It made me even more resolute to publish that memoir. Not only to tell my story, but also as a way of preserving that sensation of the self that I once was, complete with failings and at least a few strengths. The real, the true, as memory and imagination blur, my perception, my sense of truth as suspect as the characters in my story.

Meanwhile, from my sun porch I stare at my favorite beech, holding on to its brown, brittle leaves until Spring, unwilling to expose its bare branches except to those who look deep and hard. And that is what I want to do.

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It’s Been a Long Year…

US NEWS CLINTON 16 ABA

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.

These are the words of Marge Piercy; Hillary Clinton cites them in What Happened. And doesn’t it fit for this year – a year that, for many of us, felt like we were harnessed to that heavy cart, like water buffalo, trying to not make what was happening around us the “new normal.” Never, we said. Persist, we chanted. And we did, and do, persist.

I, who always hated politics and still do, found myself calling and emailing my members of Congress almost daily. When I started, I told myself that I would stick to two issues: gun control and universal health care. A glutton for punishment, you say? Well, punishment it was, but, with those numbers on speed-dial, I developed a tolerance for the smirk and smarm from the staff who answered our politicians’ phone lines – that is, when I could actually reach a live human. Most times it was voice mail, or, thank you very much Senator Burr, a message saying that voicemail was full.

And I found that I could not stick to my two targets – each day there was a new cause, one that needed to be reckoned with. Hard not to become overwhelmed and discouraged, there were times when I had to take a few days off. But I persisted. Not for myself. This year brought the many blessings that I have into a new perspective. I had healthcare; I had a prescription drug plan where my 90-day supply of medicine cost me $3. And so, I asked myself, and my congressmen’s interns, why would I not want that for everyone? Why wouldn’t they?

I asked how much they took from the NRA – they promised to get back to me on that one – I’m still waiting. I asked about our national parks, about climate change, about the tax plan now under consideration, and I begged them to do something to remove the president from office.

Did it help? Who knows? I can only hope that it didn’t hurt. North Carolina’s two Republican senators, and my Republican member of the House (thanks to gerrymandered districts) stuck with the party line. But I persisted, and persisted, and persisted. I called up energy I didn’t know I had.

And then there’s Hillary. A few weeks ago, I stayed at the New Yorker Hotel – where she gave her concession speech, one that I cannot read without weeping. And as I read What Happened, that familiar knot in my throat returned. The book is long and has more names and facts than any sane person could grasp, but it also tells the story of a real person, someone who has survived heartbreak time and time again on a public stage, who has looked inward and recognized her personal strengths, and weaknesses, in life and in politics. I liked that. I like her. I’m still with her.

So, after this long year, I’m still here. My heart hurts; I am angry at the choices that some of our citizens made and continue to make. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it; I know I’ll never be the same. I am committed to doing, and saying, what I can to make our country one that builds a longer table, never a wall.

End of soapbox oration. Tuesday saw some triumphs for candidates who have a more sympathetic philosophy, but it is far too soon to do any victory laps. Persist, and persist, and persist. And just maybe, one of those staffers will respond, yes, the congressman is in full agreement. I’m waiting for that day.

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On New York and Resilience

Bravo! I took this subway with no guide.. take me back to nyc

On New York and Resilience—

This post was going to be all about me – my resilience, my trip to New York, my seeing the city, and myself, in a new, positive way.

Instead, I write about a terror attack near the World Trade Center, where pictures of mangled bicycles, stories of Argentinian friends, a battered school bus, overcome memories of a clear blue sky and leaves just tinged with gold.

Resilience – New Yorkers have it in spades. And not only from September 11, 2001. I think that they’ve always had it – that it stems from a pride, even an arrogance, of living and persisting in one of the toughest, and greatest, cities in the world. It isn’t easy to live in New York, though I know that each borough has its own distinct personality. The gift to be able to “walk anywhere” is one that comes with a few strings – you have to be physically able to do that, and at a pace that would set the heads of most non-New Yorkers spinning. The subway is always handy – and, depending on your definition of “handy, that could be eight or nine blocks away. And those steps…. not for the faint of heart.

But still, even for this out-of-towner, there is a pride that quickly arrives when one pushes one’s way through a crowd of people walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk – don’t they know? how could they not know? — of quickly and deftly stepping around a crowd of tourists, obviously, who have stopped, three- or four-abreast, to look up at what they think is the Empire State Building (it isn’t) – and what can I say of the swelled head when someone asks you for directions? I must look like I belong here. Sweet…

You need strength to live in New York, physical and psychological. I recognize that by spending only a few days there. And with strength comes resilience. And sadness. And heartbreak.

You can target this city, founded on trade, and money, and what some might consider the worst qualities of our country, but you cannot break it. And for that, we must learn a lesson and be proud.

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