family, mental health, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…How Do You Sing Your Song?

Any mention of the date September 11th triggers memories of the moment our lives were forever changed. Certainly, for my generation, it was our day that will live in infamy.

I vividly remember the night of 9/11 and the days that followed. The waves of fear that rolled through every attempt to reach family and friends who were potentially in the air that morning, or who were undeniably in New York, DC or stranded abroad, had us holding our breath through those disturbing unchartered waters.

Once we learned “our people” were safe, we were entombed with empathetic grief for so many that wondered, worried, feared and knew.

After what was, admittedly, a completely inappropriate amount of time, I asked my husband how this might impact our planned vacation to Disney World that was to take place in three weeks time.

After a more appropriate amount of time (two days) Pat called the Disney resort and was told they would offer us a full refund or allow us to rebook anytime without penalty. As planes were returning to the air, we struggled to decide what to do.

I talked about our quandary with a friend who also happens to be an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi. I shared with him my concern and worry. He replied by saying, “Katie, you need to live your life as if it is a song to G-d.”

(He actually said the word “God” but in deference to the Jewish tradition of utmost respect, I’m typing it the way he would.)

He continued saying, “Every day, you must sing your song in the very best way you can. I knew of a man who was afraid to travel to Israel for the High Holidays because of the unrest in the region, so, instead, he was sitting at his desk in the World Trade Center when the first plane hit.”

He implored me to take an active role in my destiny and to, “Live your life as if it was a song to G-d, every single day.”

So, despite offers of full refunds, Pat and I hopped on a plane with our girls to the Magic Kingdom where we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Mickey and Minnie were on a first name basis with Maddie and Clare by the end of the long weekend.

October 5, 2001, in the eerie middle of Main Street USA. Disney World was a ghost town

That memory and the life lesson associated with it — living your life as if it were a song to God — has been in the forefront of my mind over the past few months.

Am I doing that?  Living my life as if it is a song to God? What about the people I love? Are they? And, if so, what are the lyrics of our songs saying about who we are and what is important to us?

Earlier this year, I realized my song had taken on a much more melancholy tune and, try as I might, I couldn’t shake it. My life is blessed with family and friends who I know would do anything for me…as I would for them. I have so much for which I am grateful, and yet, I couldn’t unshackle myself from this pervading gloom. So I turned to a doctor for help; much like I would have if my symptoms were elevated blood pressure or cholesterol levels. And as a result of her care, I feel as though, once again, my song is one of hope and happiness, curiosity and contentment.

I thought about this very thing when I learned of Kate Spade’s suicide, and now Anthony Bourdain. How did their songs become so dark and painful that they could no longer manage the burden?

So much is written about the mental health crisis in our nation. In 2016, there were more than twice as many suicides than homicides in the United States. The CDC reported yesterday that US suicide rates have increased more than 25% since 1999.

The loss of these bright lights and so many others whose deaths may not have captured headlines have left behind loved ones with immeasurable pain rooted in the depths of their hearts.   And they have left everyone wondering what can be done.

The article linked here from the Huffington Post offers great direction about how to talk about suicide in a way that is actually helpful.

And, while it may sound trite to some, we can listen to my Rabbi’s advice. Live your life as if it is a song to God. If your song has taken on an atypical dark and bluesy tone that is impacting how you look at the world, then that is a sign it’s time to reach out for help to change the melody or rework the lyrics.

We also must continue to be more aware of changes to the songs others are singing. When that happens, as it has many times over the course of my brother’s life, we search for a new song with counselors as composers and psychiatrists as lyricists…whatever it takes to just keep singing.

2,997 lives were lost on September 11th in an act of terrorism that changed our lives forever. In 2016, there were 44,965 deaths by suicide. Read that number again. 44,965 excruciating acts of desperation that should also change our lives forever. We should, through our words and deeds, aim to ensure that the legacy of those lives lost to suicide is one of hope and peace, honest discourse aimed at ending stigma, inviting comfort and living our lives as if they were a song to God.

We are stronger together. And so is our song.

kmp

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family, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…Fake News!

Our Commander-in-Chief has popularized this colloquialism to the point where even the most casual political observer is moved to call into question anything written or spoken by the Fourth Estate.

Skimming over articles about immigration reform, a potential government shut down and the volatile stock market has left this reader hopeful that the upcoming Olympics will steal every headline with stories of courage, persistent dedication and national pride.

But after tossing the paper into the recycling bin and turning off the television, I spent more time than necessary analyzing an article that turned up while continuing my New Year’s resolution of cleaning/purging things from our home.

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My Mom’s tenth birthday party was considered part of all the news that was fit to print in the Syracuse Herald Journal’s evening edition of September 10, 1941.

Not fake news.

I can’t help but smile at each word of copy and the fact that it appeared in the newspaper at all.  And to think, the very next generation of ten-year-olds would have to stealthily pass out birthday invitations to a select few to avoid brazenly leaving someone out. And the generation after that would be encouraged to invite the entire class just to avoid hurt feelings.

But in 1941, it was socially acceptable to use mainstream media to inform a whole bunch of uninvited 10-year-olds and their parents that they missed out on a table set with birthday cake and water lily candles. That’s hilarious.

I’ve never even heard of a water lily candle. I turned for insight to the all-knowing Google machine, which only succeeded in suckering me into Henri Bendel for their water lily scented candle touted as a great Valentine’s gift. (And I swear I could hear my Grandma Hogan screaming from heaven, “Who the hell would ever spend $30 on a candle? Your Mom’s whole 10th birthday party didn’t cost me that much!)

As I hit “complete order” I whispered to the heavenly voice in my head, “Pipe down Grandma. They’re half-off. It’s a good deal.” Then I opened another storage box and immediately felt guilt-ridden.

 

WAR RATION COUPON BOOKS

These WWII ration books belonged to my Grandpa Frank and Great-Grandpa Sebastian Barthel.

 

Only three months after my Mom’s newsworthy party, the United States would be thrust into war. Shortly after that, families would have been given War Ration Books. I can’t even imagine grocery shopping using removable stamps for certain rationed items, like sugar, meat and canned goods. When your ration stamps were used up for that month, you couldn’t buy any more of that type of food.

Kind of puts perspective on how not making the cut on a birthday party list paled in comparison to worrying about sending a son off to war or how you would be able to feed your family on rations. I remember my Mom sharing the memory of an Army car slowly traveling down Park Street one summer’s day a few years into the war and stopping at a neighbor’s house to deliver the dreaded news of a young soldier’s death. She said the entire street stood quietly except for the sound of the mother wailing. Decades later, you could still sense how deeply haunted my Mom was by that moment.

Am I over-romanticizing a time in history? Is my mind’s eye falsely envisioning the norm of that era being every American holding God and Country in highest regard? Am I creating an undeserved image of a people who respected authority and an authority who respected the people, the balance of power and the potency of peaceful protest?

Probably.

A few weeks ago, a paragraph in a Sunday New York Times article caught my attention, as it suggests we are a more tolerant generation, despite what comments on Twitter and Facebook would have you think.

The article referred to “the first wave of European immigrants coming to America to escape the aftermath of World War II, the greatest refugee crisis in the last century. And yet public sentiment was opposed to immigration. More than two-thirds of Americans then objected to allowing Jews and other Europeans into the United States. For comparison, an April 2017 Pew Research Center Poll found that 48 percent of Americans don’t believe the United States has a responsibility to accept Syrian refugees.”

I guess I don’t want to be in 1941 America, but 2018 America is not that palatable either. The Presidential tweets are bizarre and frightening and not reflective of even a minimum standard of professionalism expected for the Executive Office. On the other side of the aisle, I’ve been disappointed by people I have long respected who, in one breath, are inspirationally calling for the rights and protection of all women, and in the next breath mocking Sarah Huckabee for her physical appearance just because they oppose her politics.

You can’t have it both ways.

I drew a little perspective from Notre Dame’s Daily Gospel Reflection this week that focused on a passage from Mark’s gospel where Jesus said, “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile…it is what comes out of a person that defiles.”

So while it does matter what Trump says, or Nancy Pelosi or Sarah Huckabee or Harvey Weinstein or what anyone else in this messed up world has to say, what matters infinitely more are the words you choose. We can only enact change through what we say, how we say it and to whom.

I don’t mean to come off as some judgmental holier-than-thou windbag. Seriously, I have so many skeletons in my closet that I don’t even need hangers anymore. They just hold up all my clothes, and the worst part is the skeletons win “Who Wore It Best” every time.

But we, as a nation, need to embrace Michelle Obama’s directive at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, “When they go low, we go high.” We need, as Americans, to embrace the concept of a “kinder, gentler nation” that George H.W. Bush put forth at the 1988 Republican National Convention. We need to embrace my Dad’s directive to “never burn a bridge” and my Mom’s to “always treat others the way you’d like to be treated.”

I need to count the blessings bestowed upon me in 2018 America and share them willingly with an undefiled heart.

And I will attempt to do so, awash in the glow of a grossly overpriced candle.

kmp

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The front page of the same edition that buried the story of Mary Anne Hogan’s 10th birthday party.

 

 

 

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