Sunday, February 21, 2010

Writing for My Sister

My very first blog post was on another blog, one I have since abandoned, on July 21, 2005. The fifth anniversary of my attempt to share thoughts with the world is approching.

That first blog post was entitled "Geezers and Geezerhood" and attempted to explain why people should be happy to be getting older. I wrote, "The health issues that tend to come with age, of course, are negative aspects of getting older, but on the whole, getting older is a good thing. I intend to keep doing it."

I wrote that as encouragement for one of my sisters, who had been having health issues for a long time and was feeling a little depressed. I don't know whether that first post of mine had any impact on her, but I do know that she regularly read my blog from the very beginning. Often, she read between the lines and knew when I was angry, depressed, or just frustrated with the world around me. She knew that many of my frustrations related to the fact that I loathed the work that I created for myself by starting my own business. She encouraged me to get out of it, to do something different, to retire and see the country on my own terms. From her perspective, all I needed to do was just do it. Her concern was for my health, physical and mental, and she never stopped encouraging me to "give it up" and enjoy life instead of scrambling hard for five or six or ten days straight so I could have a weekend or even an occasional week to do what I wanted.

If I had listened to her, I might have done the impossible and given up being tied to a desk for a life "on the road." She lived on a tiny Social Security check in a tiny subsidized apartment in an building operated for people near the bottom of the economic scale. She was able to see past the "need" for material things. She didn't need a big house, a nice car, or money in the bank. Sure, she would have been more comfortable with those things, but what she needed was to be able to help other people. She needed that as much as she needed air to breathe.

I possess only a fraction of the need to be of service to others that my sister had. I have it, but not the way she did. She was passionate about it, but she did not expect others to share it. She just went about doing it. She occasionally shared what she was doing, but she rarely revealed just how much she was doing for others.

My brothers and my other sister said aloud, from time to time, "I wish she would use the money we give/lend her for herself!" But she rarely would. Instead, if a neighbor needed food or a friend needed money to pay a bill or an acquaintance needed an attorney, she would spend her own money and any we provided on helping that other person. It was rare that she would actually spend money on herself.

Once, recently, I insisted on buying a "doctor's scale" for her that her doctor had been encouraging her to buy. She needed to weigh herself very accurately every day and report any signficant changes to her doctor because certain drugs she was taking could cause water retentino which could, in turn, put additional pressure on her already over-taxed heart. It took me months to get her to accept the money for the scale. It was less than $200, but you would have thought I was mortgaging my house; she did not want me to give up anything just to help her. She was not used to getting anything; she was only used to giving.

In hindsight, I realize that I was looking at situations from a different perspective than she was. I was used to having discretionary money, albeit not a lot. She was used to living week to week, and stretching her money to make ends meet. And I think she felt guilty taking anything for herself because she was spending "needlessly" on a vice: smoking. But I know how hard it is to stop that addiction, having kicked it only six years ago after a 35 years habit. In retrospect, I think she felt guilty that she was not using the money she spent on cigarettes on helping other people; she had another, competing, addiction: service to others.

My sister and I had very different perspectives on religion. She was a believer and had connections with the church, though she had deep divides with core elements of the church. I am not a believer, but I do share her loathing for the hypocracies of organized religion. I can't say with certainty, but I think her support for the church had more to do with the good works done in the name of the church than with its religious formalities. We spoke fairly often about my indignation with organized religion in general and my disbelief in a supreme power. She didn't defend the church except to tell me how a church near where she lived was exceptionally supportive of the community, especially people who were, like her, near the bottom of the economic ladder. She wished I would have believed in a supreme being, but she was satisfied that I appreciated the work the church did. And she had little tolerance for people who use the church in place of their brain; she preferred that people think for themselves and not depend on the church to do it for them.

Many of the people who lived near my sister lived deeply in poverty; she treated everyone the same way, though, regardless of who they were or where they came from. She was just as comfortable telling a wealthy attorney to return usurious fees to a poor client as she was inquiring of a street person when was the last time he had eaten. I know many people who are uncomfortable dealing with the "lowest of the low" strata of society; thanks to learning from my sister, I no longer have that level of discomfort. While she was quite liberal in her views, she was quick to condemn false liberalism in the rich socialite who would give money to the poor, but who wouldn't deign to speak to them or treat them as equals.

My first blog post, which was intended to improve my sister's mood, led to a flood of others, some of which my sister appreciated and many of which she probably did not. But like them or not, she read them; I think she read them because she felt compelled to read them, in case something I said might signal a need to talk something out. And she read those signals well, too.

My sister's death on February 19 brought her reading of my posts to an end. But I will continue to write as if she might read them and I'll try to continue to learn from her as I remember all she taught me, and all she tried to teach me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Gift is Gone

My sister, my wonderful sister who lived in poverty but shared the few nickels that found their way into her purse, died this morning. I mourn her death out of selfishness that she will no longer be the person to brighten my day when I'm down. But at least I know she won't have to suffer anymore through hellish episodes of chest pain and respiratory distress. I will miss her until death takes me.

Unlike me, she was a believer in a supreme being and she tended to have attachments to the church. If she was right and I am wrong, there are angels singing today in celebration that one of the most generous, giving, caring people who ever walked the earth is in their midst. If I am right, then her passing is simply a jolt to this earth and to the countless people for whom she sacrificed so many material things so that those she called her friends would have just a little something.

She fed people she didn't know, she gave up her bed for people who needed to sleep, she battled the IRS and Social Security Administration for people who couldn't do on their own, but desperately needed an advocate. And they had that advocate in my sister. She was, in many ways, the Molly Ivins of our family; she gave people hell if they deserved it, especially when they had mistreated someone else...the underdog was her pet!

I have lost a very dear friend and a person I loved very, very much. Since learning of her death just two hours ago, it has been damn near impossible for me to keep my composure. After the necessities of dealing with death are behind us, I plan to arrange for a celebration of her life that I wish I'd done while she was alive to see how much she has meant to so very many people.

Goodbye, Mimi. We love you.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl

I have long been a sarcastic commentator about the Super Bowl. My assessment has been that the game is intended, primarily, for the unwashed masses...the less intelligent among us, the morons who somehow equate their own abilities with football players who are both dim-witted and hyper-muscular.

Maybe I've been right.

But tonight I watched most, though not all, of the Super Bowl. And I found myself mezmerized by the event. I certainly do not equate my bulbous and weak body with the bodies of the athletes, but I connected with them, or someone, somehow. I didn't really care about the players,nor their coaches, nor most of their fans...but I cared that the New Orleans Saints might give the citizens of that city a boost if they won. But it grew beyond that as I watched the game. I actually enjoyed it. And that was despite the fact that I didn't want to. I wanted to watch it as a show of solidarity with the people of New Orleans, but I ended up watching it because it was exciting. And the game kept me on edge right until the end. I didn't sit glued to the TV, but I watched most of the game. And I liked it.

So maybe I've been wrong. Maybe my haughtier than thou attitude has been elitism of an ugly sort. I've not converted to a football fanatic, but I have changed my attitude about one game, and I've changed my attitude completely. I've allowed myself to consider myself "better" than the riff-raff who watch football. And now I'm among the riff-raff. And that's OK. It's better than OK. Maybe I'm getting over my self-induced snobbery.

But, no, I won't go to the next high-school football game with you. Rabid Republicans go there. I would just get into a fistfight.

Miscellaneous Recent New Mexico Shots

Click on any image below to embiggen.