Fame

“Fame is a fickle food upon a shifting plate.” ~ Emily Dickinson

I grew up on the periphery of fame. My father worked in television in the early 1950s, when the sets were boxy clunkers with oversized knobs, their guts stuffed with towering globed tubes.

Dad often brought us to the TV station when we lived in Texas.

He was in engineering so he handled the technical side of things. It was exciting. Another world.

My brothers and I stumbled our child bodies past TV cameras that stood like robots before an anchor desk and to the right of it, a weather map filled with an angry sun of cardboard and puffy smiling clouds.

howdy-doody-peanut-galleryWe followed him down a narrow hallway lined with autographed photos of Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo and Dave Garroway. I never did meet any of them, although I desperately wanted to be part of The Peanut Gallery with Howdy and the gang.

“That’s in New York City,” mom would say. “It’s too far away.”

When I was 10 years old, we moved from Texas to Philadelphia where dad became the chief engineer and later station manager for KYW-TV 3. He was there during the heyday of The Mike Douglas Show. And again, I skirted fame, seeing and sometimes meeting celebrities who appeared on the show.

Before dad had his stroke, he told stories about the rich and famous.

He spoke of walking the streets of Philadelphia with Bob Hope, trying to find a shop where Hope could buy some new dress shirts. Dad shared the story of kissing Shirley Temple Black on the cheek (https://mezuniga.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/kissing-shirley-temple/) and of Yul Brynner telling him that he didn’t think he had much longer to live.

sonny-cherAnd we laughed when dad said he actually tried to throw Sonny and Cher out of the studio before the show taped because he thought they were two hippies trying to sneak past the guards.

My favorite memory is sitting in the front row of an empty theatre during rehearsal — as cameramen and technicians set up — watching John Lennon and Chuck Berry belt out Johnny B. Goode.Berry-Lennon_3

Later in life, as a journalist, I interviewed celebrities. Melissa Etheridge. Naomi Judd.  Many others.

So, yes, fame has always skirted me. And it did again this past weekend when I went to see the smash Broadway hit Hamilton with a friend.  We were given a backstage tour and I got to meet Rosie O’Donnell, who was in the audience at that performance, as well as much of the cast. She was lovely. They all were.

Why am I sharing all this?

Because, yes, it’s exciting to be near or meet celebrities. After all, they are “important” people in the eyes of the world. And I’m human and susceptible, so like anyone else I’ve been jazzed to rub elbows with those society has deemed to be elite.

But you know what? Fame is also transitory. At its heart, it’s an illusion with little substance.

The truth is, celebrities are flesh-and-blood and die as we’ve seen all too often this past year. We can appreciate their creative gifts and talents and miss their presence in our world — we can be shocked when they pass away unexpectedly — but in the end, we all must face our own mortality.

It’s all passing.

already forgotten fameSo, yes, as alluring and intoxicating as fame can be — to breathe in and be near its energy — it isn’t real.

In one of my favorite movies Notting Hill, Julia Roberts plays a well-paid move star who says to Hugh Grant, a lowly travel book shop owner: “You know, the fame thing isn’t really real.”

Roberts also says: “One day, not long from now, my looks will go, they will discover I can’t act, and I will become some sad, middle-aged woman who looks like someone who was famous for awhile.”

I never did make it to the Peanut Gallery with Howdy Doody. But I did make it to New York City many times. On this most recent trip I even had the chance to stand on the empty center stage on the set of Hamilton after the play.

Yes, I loved it. Wow. But then I left the stage, thankful for the experience and back to the script and stage of my own ordinary life.

Dad used to say celebrities were like anyone else. People. Some were friendly, some were arrogant, some wanted to be left alone.

That could be said of any of us. For well-known personalities, however, fame only exacerbates who they already are.

your name here fameSo who are we? Can we take center stage in our lives, be the star who shows up at the office, drives the kids to school or soccer, washes the dishes, plants the garden, falls asleep on the couch? Can we be someone who is kind, loving, attentive, present to all that is offered us in any given moment?

For most of us, life will NOT be fame, but those ordinary moments that knit together a day. In fact, knit us together as a people.

I find this comforting. The mundane stuff of life may not be the paparazzi or the spotlight or autographs. But in the end, it’s all that matters. It’s real. It endures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Bible of my heart

Writing the personal is often difficult for me. But I take a deep breath and plunge in with the hope that the personal is also what is found in the common ground of our hearts.

*******

I am sitting with dad. He had a stroke three years ago, uses a walker and must have someone with him all the time. He can’t fall, although he did recently. He is mending. Slowly.

As one of his primary caregivers, I find the time with dad involves everything from preparing his lunch, to watching old episodes of Get Smart with him, to ensuring he’s OK when he’s napping. And often more.

caring-for-aging-parentsHe can communicate to some degree, but he has aphasia, an inability to find the correct words. It’s often difficult to know what he wants or needs.

So I often ask if he needs water, something to eat, or would like to watch something else on TV. He can say “yes” or “no,” but it’s hard to tell. Sometimes “yes” means “no” and “no” means “yes.”

I tell him that I love him. Often. I learned many years ago that life is brief and it’s important to say I love you every chance I can.  So I lean into him as he rests in his recliner and say, “I love you, dad.”

Sometimes he’ll say, “I love you, too.”

And so it goes when I sit with dad. I stay with dad to relieve my mother. She is with him much of the time and shares their first-floor bedroom in the former dining room that once was space to boisterous Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It is now filled with twin beds — dad’s with a guard rail — and medical supplies and the smell of aging.

Sometimes, when dad is napping, I pray. I pray for him. For my mother, our family. I pray for our world that seems so desperate these days, stewing in values that seem off center and sad to me. I pray for myself. Sometimes I write on this laptop. My blog. It keeps me sane. It is another form of prayer.

Today, as dad slept, I walked into the front parlor — do they still call them parlors — and saw the aging Bible sitting on the piano that I’ve seen a thousand times before. It always seemed another part of the bric-a-brac and chachkas that gathered dust.

Curious, I picked it up. The book was weighty and thick with yellowed pages and a tattered leather cover, worn around the edges.

elvis-bible-1_thumbI went back to the TV room where dad was still sleeping and opened the frail, brittle pages. The story of a life unfolded. My mother’s. My father’s.

My mother’s handwriting in blue fountain pen ink graced the front page where she wrote that the Bible was a gift to herself dated 1945 in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Also listed were the names of siblings, parents, grandmothers and grandfathers. Some from Tennessee, some from Kentucky. I sat with those names, their energies and spirits in another world, but at one time, flesh and blood and bone whose lives gave me life.

With great care, I went through the pages and found bookmarks that were bits of the past, tucked away as if in a time capsule.

A faded greeting card with a basket of flowers on it from Mexican relatives in Texas congratulating my parents on their wedding in 1948.

An old napkin with a faded sketch in blue of a quaint cottage with the words “The Inn on Buttermilk Bay.” Where was it I wondered, and when had they been there? Had it been a happy time, one where youth still gave them joy and freedom?

Two ticket stubs to a Glenn Miller band concert and a letter from my late grandmother in Nashville. When she wrote that letter she was as old as my mother is now — 87. And in it, she speaks of Easter and going to church and included the folded, yellowed news clipping of one of my mother’s childhood friends who had died.

There were saved birthday cards from grandchildren and the memorial cards from the funerals of friends.

A poignant feeling stirred in my heart at the mystery of life that is both rich and frayed — a tapestry stitched with the threads of memories, some joyful, some sorrowful. And all of it fleeting.

I searched for Psalm 23 and read ” … surely goodness and loving kindness follow me all the days of my life.”

Goodness and kindness indeed have followed mom and dad, despite the sorrows and struggles of life. And of this I’m sure — God has been and is still with them, even now as steps falter and bones aches and vision blurs and words spill out jumbled, when all that was once ripe and full of promise is now being stripped away.

birds flying girlIn that stripping, though, is the shimmer of surrender, of an eventual giving way into the transcendence of a new life. For them. Eventually for all of us.

I close the book and whisper a prayer. For strength. For grace.

Dad is stirring. He opens his tired eyes and I look into them, seeing a lifetime unfold before me.

He smiles. This. This smile. These moments now. These are the memories I am tucking away in the bible of my heart. I will find comfort in them in the future when I will need them. And for this, I am thankful.

I squeeze dad’s hand and go to fix his lunch.

Churned at the crossroads

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost

*******

We all travel life’s journey. And we come to crossroads. They may be thrust upon us with a divorce, a death, a job change. Or, we may feel a need to emigrate to a new universe. Either way, we feel lost. Disconnected. Which way to go?crossroads

In her book When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd writes:

“If you think God leads you only beside still waters, think again. God will also lead you beside turbulent waters. If you have the courage to enter, you’ll think you’re drowning. But actually, you’re being churned into something new.”

When we’re at a crossroads in life, we can often feel like we’re drowning. But truth be told, we’re being churned into a new being. And it can feel murky and unsettling.

Let me share a personal story. Years ago I came to a crossroads in my writing life. I had been somewhat successful in journalism earning some prestigious writing awards, but I also was feeling burned out and wanted to fulfill my gifts and life in other ways.

Sue Monk Kidd writes about this in her book Traveling with Pomegranates.

“I felt like my writing had gone to seed. A strange fallowness had set in. I could not seem to write in the same way … now something new wanted to break through.”

I had always loved the counseling field and after years of my own personal archaeological dig into therapy, I felt I knew what this was like. I hoped that as a therapist I might make a difference in people’s lives and help them discover their own strengths and gifts.

I loved my graduate courses in psychology. And although I was nervous, I was excited about my nine-month internship at a counseling center.

Then it happened.

I thought I had learned about “boundaries” and how to be objective, but I found I was going home with everyone’s problems. Susie’s addiction; Joe’s bad marriage; Mark’s anxiety and depression because of an abusive upbringing.

Friends told me to give it time — that I would learn to put up stronger boundaries. But how could I do that when I felt such empathy for my clients? That ability to “feel deeply” for others became a blessing and a curse. My clients stayed with me through the nine months because I honored where they were and hopefully reflected to them their own strengths. But me? I was slowly burning out.

Truth be told, fear reared its ugly head and I left the field. A mistake? Perhaps.

But I also believe this. Every experience, every choice in life, whether we judge it as a mistake or not, teaches us and enriches us if we allow it. All detours really are in some way for our greater good and lead us to where we need to be, whether to a new landscape or a new horizon on our souls. Those “roads less traveled” do indeed make all the difference.

scarecrow ozFor some reason, the scene from the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy meets the Scarecrow keeps coming to mind. She asks him the way to Oz and the Emerald City and he points to the left and the right and can’t seem to make up his mind. But he and Dorothy take a deep breath and choose one path.

If they had not chosen that path, they may never have met the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. And although they travel many alternate routes and face many challenges, eventually they do end up in Oz.

Here’s what I believe — when we are at a crossroads and choose a path — whatever it is — and if we have an open heart and trust in the Spirit within, we will be guided. Whatever raw material of faith we offer the Divine, we can trust it will be used for our good.

Will the uncertainty of our choice be disturbing? Most likely. Will it be hard? Maybe. But it also might be exciting and fun. And no matter our experience, I believe that life is about growth. We are often placed in an uncomfortable place or space so that our hearts and spirits might burst open. The crossroad is in our lives so that something “new” might break through.

self loveThat may feel like little comfort when fear overwhelms us. But as someone who has stood at countless crossroads and taken many roads less traveled, I’m here as proof to tell you this:

You will survive. You will make it. And guess what? You will discover strengths and gifts waiting to break free, waiting to be claimed by you. For you. For the world.

You will make it to the Emerald City. You won’t drown. And you will be churned into someone new.