Badass

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On Saturday we witnessed naked hatred and violence like we had never before experienced in our relatively sheltered lifetimes. It shook us to the core. That night I asked my husband to make sure the garage apartment was locked up. We awoke to a world where the advisability of going to church had to be weighed against safety concerns. As I pulled out of my driveway that morning, I looked warily at my daughter’s playhouse and wondered if it could possibly be sheltering a Nazi sleeping off a day of liquor-fueled rampaging in our once peaceful little town. On Tuesday, the words I heard spewing from the incontinent troll in the White House hit me like a punch to the gut. My heart was filled with blind rage. I could not muster any love or light that night.

As I tried to settle down to sleep, my phone kept pinging with messages being sent by people spreading the word about a candlelight march that would begin at 9 pm the next night. We would retrace the same route that the tiki-torch-bearing losers took on Friday to reclaim the Grounds of the University of Virginia. There was, is still enough fear of violence that there were no posts to social media. I know people who came with mace for fear of being attacked. People were spreading the word only to those they trusted.

In the morning my daughter heard me discussing my plan to go to the march with my 17-year-old son. The fear I saw in her eyes made my heart ache.

“Is that safe?” she asked.

“There will only be good people there,” I reassured her, “It’s being kept off social media and people are only finding out about it through trusted friends.”

“But you know they’ll find out about it,” she said. They meaning the people she had seen on the news…the people with faces contorted with rage and hatred…they who were brandishing clubs and guns at our friends and clergy.

“We’ll be very careful,” I said, “I promise.”

That night I came home after a welcome dinner for our university’s new international students to pick up my son and my husband who had decided to come. To my surprise, my 15-year-old, who is usually in bed by 9, said he also wanted to come with us. I felt torn for my 12-year-old daughter, who was now faced with the choice of being by herself at night, or coming with us. She chose to come.

As we walked to Nameless Field, she clutched my hand.

“We’re parked close enough so that we can run to the car if there’s trouble,” she said as if to reassure us all.

“Don’t worry. Just stay close to me. I’ll protect you,” I told her as I squeezed her hand, “You know I would lay down my life for you…And I’m kind of a badass.”

This statement would not stand. She looked over at me, not quite rolling her eyes.

“I would lay down my life for you. And besides, I’m bigger than you are. And way more of a badass.”

IMG_1050And she is.

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Darwin helps us evolve…

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Perhaps as a result of having lived in a basement for many years in my youth, I try to avoid them as much as possible now. The house we live in now has a lovely, partly-finished basement with French doors. The kids like to play ping-pong, pummel the punching bag, and run on the treadmill there. I am never tempted to join them.

The other day I was hunting around for something and ventured to the basement for the first time in months. What I saw there literally made me gasp in horror…and then gnash my teeth in rage. I gingerly picked my way over empty food wrappers. I surveyed dirty dishes and plates on every surface, and dirty clothes and towels strewn about the floor. It was a crime scene.

It’s a good thing my husband had taken the kids to a movie, because it took a good two hours for me to stop seething. They returned from the theater in high spirits after having spent the afternoon with their dad, the fun parent. For those of you who may be unaware of this sad universal truth, only one lucky person gets to be the fun parent. This of course means that I am the mean parent. Not only am I the mean parent, I am The Meanest Most Unreasonable Parent That Ever Drew Breath In This Universe. The minute those happy, carefree children walked through the door, I confiscated their cell phones and sent them directly downstairs to tackle the unholy mess they had made.

Whenever the kids get in trouble collectively, they begin acting like rats in an overcrowded cage. A lifetime of human civility evaporates like a dream. They turn on each other with feral ferocity. I listened from the living room upstairs as they bellowed and bawled, hurling their grievances to the indifferent heavens above. My 17-year-old was the most vocal about his outrage at the unfairness of life and of his mother’s absurd and irrational insistence on maintaining a minimal level of order and hygiene.

It took some time for the turbulent feelings to subside. That evening we were in the kitchen together and began to make small conciliatory overtures to each other.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” I asked as I handed him the spatula.

“Yeah. Thanks, Mom.”

I pulled out the big guns, (emotionally speaking), by inquiring about a topic especially near and dear to my son’s heart.

“How’s Darwin doing?” I asked, “Has he fully recovered?”

For reasons beyond my comprehension, the kid dotes on his mudskipper, Darwin.  He  assiduously monitors his food intake and constantly frets over his general health and well-being. He spends hours hunting for choice, live insects to feed him and keeps his tank scrupulously pristine. When we went away to England recently, he penned a tome which outlined in excruciating detail the care and feeding of Darwin. I had to condense it down to a single-spaced page to spare the poor girl who was taking care of all of our animals while we were away. As far as I can tell, there is no return on my son’s considerable investment of time and effort. The mudskipper lolls about on his log, a glassy-eyed, overfed pasha consuming his food and dirtying his waters. No thanks given. No affection returned.

About a month earlier, my son had been doing a water change for Darwin, when the mudskipper freaked out. He started thrashing wildly around his aquarium, tearing his fins as he hurled himself in a panic from log to log. Ever since then my son has been nursing him back to health.

“He’s getting better,” he replied, “His fins are still ragged, but you can tell they’re starting to grow back.”

There was a pause before he added, “I wish he could understand that I’m just trying to help him.”

“Mmmmhmmm,” I murmured sympathetically, “I know exactly what you mean.”

“Leave me alone, Dad” I snarled, drawing upon my thespian background to channel all the wrath of a wronged mudskipper, “Why do we have to clean the room?! It’s fine the way it is!!!

There was a moment of silence followed by a low chuckle of acknowledgement: “Yeah, OK, Mom.”

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We are not destroyed.

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We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. 

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Beta Bridge was freshly painted this morning.

A couple weeks ago a friend and I were discussing the White Nationalist rally that was coming to Charlottesville when it was still just a looming menace.

“Will you leave town?” my friend asked me.

“Why should I?” I replied. “Charlottesville is my town. I live there.”

The day we dreaded arrived and it was a darker day than I could have imagined.

The night before we watched in disbelief as hundreds of tiki-torch bearing hate mongers paraded around our town like so many teeming cockroaches. We felt defiled as we watched them march around the Rotunda, which Jefferson had envisioned to be a Temple of Enlightenment. We were sickened to watch them assault our students.

We spent the next morning like any other Saturday, but we held our breaths and anxiously, futilely hoped for a peaceful day. We drove our kids to soccer and their piano lessons. We waited for a piano to be delivered to our house. All the while we followed the events that were unfolding in our town. We anxiously watched for posts from our friends, neighbors, and clergy, who were bravely trying to keep the peace and spread a message of love to counter the message of hatred and divisiveness brought in by outsiders. We reeled in horror as we watched the footage of the terror attack on the Downtown Mall that resulted in the death of one and injuries to many.

In the afternoon my boys asked if they could drive down to the river to go fishing. I readily agreed, thinking it would be good for them to get outside and away from it all, but then immediately regretted it. They were so excited about their excursion that I didn’t have the heart to make them stay home. I did dampen their high spirits and detain them with stern warnings to be cautious: “Swear to me you’ll leave right away if you see sketchy people hanging around by the river. There are a lot of really bad people in Charlottesville today. They’re brawling in the streets.”

And then I heard myself saying: “It might be dangerous for you, because you don’t look white.”

As soon as the words left my mouth, I couldn’t believe they had. The primal fear I felt for the safety of my children filled me with shock mingled with sorrow, mingled with rage. Until yesterday, the progressive bubble that is Charlottesville had sheltered me from the fear people of color experience around the country on a daily basis.

“We’re not going to church tomorrow,” my husband announced later that day, “It’s a well-known liberal church right next to the university and it’s not safe to be there.” I’m going to be honest…for half a minute, I was glad to have an excuse to sleep in for a change. But then I came to my senses. Oh, HELL no. This is OUR town for God’s sake. I would not be intimidated from going to church of all places.

I thought the church would be empty, but it was a full house this morning. The pews were full of brokenhearted, but not broken people. Through tears we sang and prayed. We prayed for Heather Heyer, who lost her life yesterday. We prayed for the police helicopter pilots, who died in the line of duty. We prayed for all the injured, and for the doctors and nurses who were caring for them in our local hospitals. We prayed for all of the people in our community, whose hearts, like ours, were breaking.

You know who else we prayed for?

We prayed for the “children of God,” who came to our beautiful little town yesterday to sow hatred and wreak havoc.

Can you imagine that? That’s Charlottesville, the town I know and love.

God help us all.

Charlottesville

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IMG_1024When I moved to Charlottesville almost twenty years ago, I found love.

I’ve lived in many places in my life – from a small town in Pennsylvania, where I felt like an alien to New York City, where I felt invisible. For those five years in Manhattan, that invisibility was a blessed relief. I felt comfortable there, because I could try as hard as I wanted to look different, to be different, and it wouldn’t matter. There would always be people who were more outrageous, more outlandish than I could ever possibly be. No one looked at me anyway, because no one made eye contact under any circumstances. I loved that I could disappear into the crowd.

I would have happily stayed in New York, but Charlottesville is where my husband found his job, and so that’s where we were headed. All I knew of Charlottesville was that it was a small southern town, and that it was the home of the University of Virginia. I was cagey about the move. I knew there weren’t many Asian people there, and I feared that once again I would know that feeling of profound alienation I thought I had left behind for good when my family moved away from Pennsylvania.

My first couple of weeks in Charlottesville were disconcerting. I walked around my neighborhood puzzled by the fact that people I passed on the street and even people driving past in cars would wave to me and smile. I honestly felt I might be losing my mind. I would rack my brains trying to remember where I’d met these people, kicking myself for my terrible memory. It took me some time to realize that I had never met them at all. I was living in a town that was so friendly – complete strangers would wave to me as if they knew me and wished me well. I lost my shield of invisibility, but when people looked at me, they didn’t see how I was different, they just saw me. For the very first time in my life, it felt like I was home.

The kindness went beyond these niceties. Our neighbor Dr. B  seemed to epitomize to us the generosity of spirit we found in Charlottesville. He put up a bluebird house and planted tomatoes for us as a neighborly gesture before he even met us…He baked us cookies and brought us peaches and apples from the orchard and helped us rake our endless mountains of leaves. In our community, every time a baby is born, or someone is ill or grieving, a casserole brigade roars into action. Every day I feel grateful that my children have been nurtured and cherished by a wide circle of good people. As for me, I have become a better person for having lived here in Charlottesville, where love is shown as a matter of course, in big gestures and small kindnesses – with spontaneity and genuine warmth.

This love is reflected in our community’s politics too. Our town hosts nonprofit organizations like the Building Goodness Foundation, which builds homes for people here and abroad. We have our own branch of the International Rescue Committee and welcome and embrace the refugees who resettle here. Today I went to our world class hospital and received excellent, compassionate care from a young doctor whose name had a zillion unfamiliar, foreign-sounding syllables. I saw this message hanging in the room: IMG_1018

We are nothing, if not earnest do-gooders. Recently, our city council voted to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from its prominent downtown location, because it memorializes an immoral and outdated ideology. The fact that this action has made Charlottesville a rallying point for slavering, jabbering, unevolved hate mongers scuttling into our town to spew evil, makes me sick to the core. It is disheartening and exhausting, but we will not be overtaken by the darkness. We will continue to work for peace, justice, and reconciliation. Long after their tiki torches have burned out and they’ve crawled back to their own holes, we will remain in our own beloved community to shine our lights. The only people who will never find a home here or in the civilized world are those who stand on the side of prejudice and hatred. Charlottesville is about love.

Black Rock Sands & the Festiniog Railway

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I’m sure the first thing that pops into anyone’s mind when they think of the U.K. is the beach…what with the endless sunny days and the balmy, tropical climate.

On a morning that was forecasted to be sunny and mild, we packed a picnic lunch and headed to Black Rock Sands to lounge about, soaking up the warmth of the sun:

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It’s a wind baby!

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As we walked along the beach looking for a place to have our picnic, I was literally shaking violently from the cold. Not being a very stiff-upper-lip kind of person, I decided I would forgo the picnic and hang out in the car until the rest of my crazy family was ready to leave. I watched them trudge off into the dunes, their bodies bent over at right angles as they battled the winds. I felt ever-so-slightly guilty, but mostly gleeful as I settled down for a nap in the car, which we had parked right on the beach. After just a few minutes, my husband came back to drag me into the sand dunes, insisting that it was  “almost warm” in the shelter of the dunes…IMG_4572

Almost warm? Possibly to an Eskimo! Nevertheless, clad in our finest beach attire, we kept calm and carried on with a picnic on the beach. IMG_4580IMG_4581

Our picnic was a little rushed, because the tide was coming in and we were afraid our car was going to be swept out to sea. Oh, and also because it was freezing cold and had begun to rain.

We drove on to our next destination…a train ride on the Festiniog Railway.

IMG_4599Unfortunately, the driving rain prevented us from seeing anything but the odd cow from our windows. On the bright side, the company was pleasant and we were out of the rain!

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The Festiniog Railway holds a special place in my husband’s heart. During his gap year before starting college, he spent some time working in their archives. They gave him this World War I document as a parting gift:

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Perhaps they gave it to the promising young historian about to embark upon his studies at Cambridge as a reward for his exceptional work in the archives. Or perhaps they gave it to him for pitching in to help with the buffet cart whenever they were short-staffed. My very tall husband makes me laugh every time he reenacts how he would carry trays of scalding hot tea through the aisles of a swaying train, his head bowed to avoid hitting it on the top of the train carriage.

He and his brother were waiting to pick us up at the station at the other end. The first order of business was to find a cup of tea – the sine qua non for life in the U.K.!

As we drove through Canaerfon and past Canaerfon Castle, my father-in-law pointed it out as the place of Prince Charles’ investiture… i.e. where he became the Prince of Wales. That’s when my mother-in-law broke out a story about her own personal encounter with Prince Charles…

My in-laws were living in St. Andrews, close to Gordonstoun, the boarding school in Scotland where the young prince was studying. My mother-in-law was asked to be his external examiner in French and German.

I didn’t know how I should address him…Prince? Your Royal Highness?

Wait a minute…First of all, I can’t believe you never told me this story before! Second: so, what did you call him?

Well, I don’t think I called him anything at all. I just got on with the examination.

And how did he do?!

He was very nervous! His French was not bad, but his German was hopeless! For some reason he got onto the topic of wine-making, but he couldn’t remember the word for grapes in German so he kept referring to them as “little black balls”!

We stopped in a newly-opened café in Porthmadog.

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Hot cocoa for a change of pace!

The proprietor came over to ask us a favor…”I can tell you’re not from around here, and as we just opened today, I was wondering if you could put a pin on our map to show where you’re from.”

So there you go…a little piece of Charlottesville in Porthmadog, Wales. IMG_0921

We’ve been back home in Charlottesville for a couple weeks now. Yesterday our one missing suitcase was finally delivered to our doorstep!

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With the last bit of our belongings safely back in Charlottesville, and my last U.K. story posted, that lovely interlude has now really ended. I will remember the glorious walks, the beautiful scenery, and the ghastly weather. Most of all, I’ll remember the precious time spent with family, who – while far away – are ever close to our hearts.

Cwm Idwal in the Ogwen Valley

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From the cultivated beauty of Bodnant Garden, we drove on to the wild beauty of Cwm Idwal…IMG_4450IMG_4452IMG_4458A stone path guided our steps…IMG_4466IMG_4465IMG_4488IMG_4494

…to a lake:

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It was a bit windy…

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Actually, it was CRAZY windy!
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Brooding Heathcliff moment.

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No brooding here. This is the face of a man in his element.

 

Bodnant Garden

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Bodnant Garden is an impossibly beautiful 80 acre garden in Wales. It is probably most famous for its Laburnum Arch. We missed its peak, and could only imagine its splendor in May and June:

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We didn’t have to imagine the splendor of the rest of the gardens…IMG_4289IMG_4294IMG_4297

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“Stop!!! You’re not allowed to pick the flowers!”

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The hydrangeas, especially, were glorious:IMG_4314IMG_4315IMG_4319IMG_4326

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The agapanthus heads were literally the size of soccer balls.

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I can’t exactly articulate why, but this fine tree reminded me of my husband.

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Peekaboo

IMG_4370IMG_4369We ended our visit to Bodnant with an epic game of tag on the perfect lawn:

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My husband and his brother…

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