A Real Prince of A Man

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Time magazine has named Harry and Meghan as members of the one hundred most influential people of 2021. Sadly people are mocking both Time and the couple as being unworthy of such an honor. I would like to submit that not only are they in fact incredibly influential, but also rather courageous for bringing a discussion of mental illness into the public consciousness. The mere fact that people view their honesty as a kind of selfish weakness is proof that we are not yet ready as a society to deal with mental illnesses in a rational and productive way. 

We all know that Harry was only twelve years old when his mother, Diana, died. He has often spoken of how traumatic that event was for him. He has spent much of his life attempting to deal with the scars that her death left with him. For the most part he was forced to combat his fears and sorrows alone because our world seems to believe that children are so flexible that we need not worry much about their reactions to tragedy. Furthermore, we are all expected to adapt to challenges with a stiff upper lip, and this would be even more true for Harry given his royal background. The truth is that he is still dealing with the backlash of his enormous loss. In speaking publicly of his torment he hopes to let people know that their own trials and fears are worthy of attention, respect and therapy. 

Harry is aware of his mother’s struggles with mental illness as well. She attempted to be as honest as he has been and was often degraded because she brought her issues to light. She was a beautiful woman who married a future king and as such she was expected to be perfect, always in control of her emotions. Her mental afflictions made it impossible for her to be so. She suffered in the public eye. In many ways she was destroyed by the general refusal of society to accept that mental illnesses are real, not the imagination of weak individuals. They afflict individuals regardless of their status in life. For the most part they make people feel uncomfortable, and so as a whole we do not want to talk about them. We nervously shun anyone who broaches the topic the way Harry and Meaghan have begun to do. 

Frankly, I believe that are doing a great service to the world at great personal cost. They both know that their honesty has generally resulted in insulting backlash and yet they persist. They are willing to endure the negativity to present an important message about the presence of mental illness in the world and the lack of understanding associated with it. For this they should be resoundingly commended.

I have often written about my father’s death and my mother’s bipolar disorder. For decades I hid those things from even close friends. They have been stunned to learn that I was only eight when my father died. They did not realize that much of my shyness and quirky behavior stemmed from the fear of death that I felt as a young child. Because nobody ever talked with me about what had happened I know for certain that I still retain unresolved issues. I am different than I might have been and different from others as well. Keeping my feelings under wraps only compounded the frightening feelings that haunt me even to this day. 

Eventually my mother became overwhelmed by the symptoms of bipolar disorder. I became her caretaker at the age of twenty. I spent the next forty years finding doctors for her, making sure that she took her medications, putting her back together after psychotic episodes. It was daunting, but what made it even worse is that I did not feel comfortable sharing her story and mine with others. The few times I tried I sensed the discomfort in my confidant. I realized that people cringe with discussions of mental illness. I mostly kept the truths of my life to myself and I often felt so alone. 

When my mother died ten years ago I went public just as Harry has done. Some people have been very supportive. Others have backed away, unwilling to listen to the horror of mental illness. I have written many blogs on the topic. I have completed a book. I sob just thinking about the impact that mental illness has on the victim and the families. I understand exactly what Harry is attempting to tell us. I know that it is something that he believes is important. I realize that he hopes to once and for all time being mental illness out of the shadows of indifference, fear, and myth. I too pray for these things because I have seen the destruction of a beautiful human being, my mother, first hand. 

I applaud anyone who broaches the topic of mental illness. It is not a sign of weakness. It is not a selfish act. It is not a way of getting attention. It is incredibly hard to do because those of us who attempt such conversations know all too well that we are driving many people away when we try to educate others on the realities of this dread disease. I tip my hat to Harry while I also chide those who would be cruel enough to ridicule a man who has endured so much sorrow and sincerely wants to help others. We won’t ever be where we need to be with mental illness until there comes a time when everyone applauds Harry rather than mocking him. He is indeed a prince of a man, and I believe that his mother would be quite proud of him.

The Limousine

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I’m an ordinary soul. Until I was well into my forties the only time I rode in a limousine was on the sad occasion of my grandmother’s death. I suppose that there may have been some folks who rented limousines for their senior proms, but I never knew any of them. When I got married, my new husband and I left the wedding reception in his father’s car. It was a bit fancier than the old Dodge that he inherited from his grandmother that would become our means of transportation in our early years of marriage. Somehow it never occurred to me to dream of cruising in a limo. It was something that I did not miss at all, and then came an unexpected opportunity.

I was teaching in a middle school that held an annual fundraiser. Not so surprisingly the government never gives enough funding to education to cover all of the expenses needed for providing students with an exceptional learning experience. Virtually every campus turns to fundraisers to earn extra cash, and ours involved turning our students into competitive salespeople hawking a variety of candies, wrapping paper and home products. Students received different kinds of incentives and awards for their efforts in making the fundraiser successful. Even the teachers got some perks if the kids in their homerooms exceeded expectations.

One year I found myself in charge of a homeroom filled with go-getters who were determined to win the most coveted prizes. As a result I became a kind of rockstar of fundraising even though I secretly harbored a hate for those things. One week the salesmanship of my students gave me a shot at grabbing cash in a machine that pumped out bills of varying value for one minute. After a few minutes I figured out a winning technique and walked away with close to seventy-five dollars. My prejudice against turning our kids into door to door salespersons began to wane ever so slightly as I pocketed the gains of their efforts.

At the end to the weeks long process the individual students who sold the most were part of a lottery for the grand prize which was an afternoon riding anywhere they wished in a limousine. One of my students won the coveted reward ,and our entire homeroom was excited for him. There was a catch, however. He had to have one of his parents accompany the group on the glamorous journey. Unfortunately both his mom and dad worked long hours and insisted that they could not miss work for anything so frivolous. My students was devastated until his mother suggested that he find out if a teacher might be allowed to serve as the chaperone. When his plan was approved, he asked me to be the adult who would ride along. Because he was a wonderful young person, I immediately agreed.

The student chose three of his best friends all of whom were polite, well-behaved, hardworking souls. I knew that the adventure would be relaxing and without any trouble so I became excited about what we might do during our five hours rolling around Houston. The plan that the boy created was a testament to his lack of experience living the high life, but it turned out to be great fun.

Our first stop was at a miniature car track not far from the school. All of the boys raced each other for a couple of hours at no cost. When they had finished they spent a few more time playing gaming machines while the limousine driver waited patiently for his next command. Once their gaming interest was sated my student suggested that we drive to a local fast food drive-in where everyone ordered burgers and shakes. By this time the boys had endeared themselves to the chauffeur who quite willingly lowered his window when the food was delivered to the car, and in his best English accent said, “Pardon me. Can you bring us some grey poupon?”

We all laughed hysterically while the server insisted on knowing who the mystery boys in the back of the limousine might be. Playing his role perfectly the driver insisted that he was not at liberty to say, but they were rather famous stars who were out enjoying some fun in between filming. By that time my role was to pretend to be the nanny.

We ended our journey at a collectable comic book store where each of the boys perused the merchandise while a clerk eyed them with interest. Eventually they each chose an item and the chauffeur paid. The student who had won the prize noticed that the store sold lottery tickets and asked that we get one of those as well. When the clerk hesitated and pointed out that it was illegal for minors to buy such things, the prize winning boy quickly noted that he wanted to buy it for me, his nanny. He explained that he wanted me to perhaps win so that I would not have to work so hard anymore. He told the clerk that I was such a lovely woman that he wished for a better life for me.

The rattled clerk sold us the ticket on the proviso that one of the adults would have to pay for it. The chauffeur quickly complied since he was the man with the funds from the fundraising company. As the baffled young man behind the counter handed me the ticket he whispered his inquiry, “Who is that young man? Is he famous or something?”

I smiled and told him that I would be fired if I were to provide that information and we left almost running to the limousine lest we burst into laughter and blow our cover. Even the chauffeur was part of our silly shenanigans at this point. He opened the window that separated him from the rest of us and boasted that he had never had so much fun. He complimented me and the boys for being so polite and well-behaved. He admitted that he had been wary of this job, but all of his fears had been for naught. As he left us at the front of the school he bowed and wished all of the young men a wonderful future.

I was only in a limousine three more times after that. Two were as part of funeral trains for loved ones. The third time was with a student who was participating at the state final of a debate contest called the Great Debate. Once again I had been lucky enough to be chosen to accompany him along with his mother and the school sponsor of the debate team. We were squired around Dallas to the hotel where he would meet his debating foe. In a time before the Affordable Care Act his task was to advocate for the creation of a national healthcare system.

The judges were impressive dignitaries including a justice of the Texas Supreme Court. His opponent was a confident fellow who appeared more than ready to tear apart my student’s arguments. Because I had once been a debater myself I knew that both young men would have to be on their best game to win. I was nervous for them.

From the start my student was disarming. If he was anxious, he did not show any hesitation. He answered each point that his rival made with great clarity. The competitor came back with equal force. I worried that the judges would have a difficult time discerning whose arguments were the strongest and defect to personal beliefs. Still, I felt very good about the abilities of my student whether or not he ultimately won.

During the time that we were waiting for results my student admitted that he had indeed been apprehensive the entire time. He was impressed with the abilities of the other debater and felt that in many ways the contest had been a draw. We were all quite tense until the judges finally returned.

They too spoke of how difficult it had been to make a decision. They noted the consistently excellent debating skills of both young men. Ultimately they had leaned toward my student as the winner. He would earn a nice check to apply to his tuition at Georgetown University where he planned to begin his college studies in the fall. We cheered with the greatest of joy.

We rode back to the airport in the limousine catching the eyes of everyone we passed on the road. I’m sure they wondered if some dignitary was inside. I knew that the young man at the center of our ride was one day going to do such great things that he would indeed be a distinguished individual. For now his future lay ahead and it seemed fitting that he would launch it like the rockstar that he was.

I doubt I will ride in a limousine ever again but I’ll always remember those two unique times with my students. Nothing gives an educator more joy than being part of the lives of truly wonderful young people. Both of these boys were winners then just as they are now. They deserved to be treated like someone special because they were. It’s too bad that everyone does not have such a wonderful experience as a reward for just being good. We too often neglect to acknowledge the most exceptional young people among us, complaining instead about those who are troubled. Maybe we’d do well to spend more time rewarding the virtue that abounds.

My Privacy and My Good Name

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I suppose that I’m not the first person to sit in her arm chair and consider the possibility of running for President of the United States to save the country. It’s fairly easy to lounge on the sidelines and point out all of the flaws of those who accept the mantle of leadership and responsibility for our great big crazy democratic republic. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it. Why not me? 

Of course getting to the White House requires running through a gauntlet of campaigning and extreme vetting by the media and the opposition. It’s unlikely that anyone will make it all the way without some real or imagined scandal being disclosed. The sport of politics is vicious these days to say the least, and throwing one’s hat in the ring takes a certain level of courage and hubris, but I’ve thought about it now and again nonetheless.

Last night I had a recurring dream of totally rearranging the furniture in my home. I was moving heavy pieces from one room to another and shuffling objects around to create a more pleasing arrangement, an update or modernization of what I have. I encountered one problem and interruption after another in spite of my careful planning. I had a vision that looked great on paper but didn’t quite come together in reality. Unexpected disasters took my focus in unanticipated directions and so even after an entire dream cycle of working very hard I still had a mess on my hands when the morning came. I awoke feeling exhausted and somehow defeated. Sometimes I imagine that is what it must be like to be President. 

Still, from a far away perspective it feels as though I can see the problems and solutions for our country better than those who have inhabited the Executive Office. Maybe the fact that I even think that I have the answers is a good sign that I possess enough audacity to throw my hat in the ring. I’m not so sure, however, that I am willing to put myself and my family through the wringer of inspection and criticism that will surely follow even though my life is truly an open book. I can say without hesitation that what you see with me is what you get, and yet I feel certain that an enterprising journalist or pundit will somehow interpret my past in ways that make me out to be someone that I am not. At least that appears to be the way things work in the world of politics. 

So I will begin my political ambitions with full disclosure of the aspects of my biography that may cause some ripples and tongue clucking. I admit that in my youthful fervor I was opposed to the war in Vietnam. My friend Claudia and I eagerly joined groups that spoke out against the escalation that sent more and more troops into the jungles for a cause that increasingly seemed to be fruitless. In truth my participation in anti-war events was entirely limited to agreeing that I did not want to lose another American in battles that seemed ultimately hopeless. When the marching and protesting began I left the ranks because I was not keen on becoming involved in potential violence. I was a rather wishy washy proponent of pacifism that had more to do with being around cute young men than real fervor. 

What will no doubt become public in a campaign is a photo from a University of Houston yearbook from the nineteen sixties that shows me as a member of the Students for a Democratic Society. I sit beaming front and center with my friend Claudia, not realizing at all that some considered the group to be communist and verging on terrorist. Ultimately I would come to learn that many though of the SDS as a very unAmerican group, but I was just a dumb eighteen year old kid who thought she was saving the world by joining, taking the photo, and then promptly backing out of any commitments. I mean I was also good buddies with cute guys from the young Republican Club as well.

I have always been open about my mother’s mental illness. I suppose that given the tragic state of her mind it might be argued that I am a bit genetically predisposed to a bit more quirkiness of personality than some. I do sometimes become overly emotional about things and I overthink all of the time, but those traits also make me enormously compassionate and logical as well. I’ve made it a long way without succumbing to mental illness and I actually believe that my familiarity with it is a plus. I understand quite well the incredible need for reforms in how we help those whose minds are ravaged by chemical imbalance.

The one thing that even I can’t seem to defend is my age. In truth I agree that I am too old for the job. Ironically I am actually younger than the two fellows who most recently ran for the highest office in the land. I am of the mind that we’ve now given five Baby Boomers a chance to set things right in our country and it’s time to turn over the reigns to Generation X. I’m not like Queen Elizabeth who clings to her title until her heir is too old to even matter. I truly believe that there is a season for every generation, and now we must look to younger souls. The world will soon belong to them and their children. They should have more of a say in how that world should look. 

So after briefly announcing my candidacy I am compelled to withdraw on the grounds that deferring to the next generation is most certainly the wisest path. I’ll be happy to consult with anyone willing to take the reins, but for now I’m content to keep my privacy and my good name and return to my arm chair to kibitz.

A Visit With Mother Nature

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I got to spend some time with Mother Nature yesterday. She seemed tired, worried, careworn. We’ve had a long relationship. She knows that I love her, but somehow I did not know what to say to her when I saw her looking so ragged. It’s been a tough year for her. In fact she’s been abused by us for quite some time now. She doesn’t like to complain, but I can tell that she has reached a breaking point. She is, after all, so generous to the whole world and yet we too often ignore her. Surely we’ve all seen the signs that she is having a very difficult time. So why are we so reluctant to take the steps to care for her, to help her heal?

I actually cried as she told me how dehydrated she often is. There are fires in her belly that she knows are slowly destroying her. Sometimes she is overwhelmed by terrible storms that wash over her, drowning her so that she can hardly breathe. She suffers from the heat of burning fevers and then has chills from a coldness than runs through her body. She’s tried to ignore these symptoms and just carry on as she always has, but lately she has been unable to deny that something is terribly wrong. She is worried. She needs help.

She did not say how she got this way. She is kind like that. Nonetheless I knew that we have collectively done this to her. We have taken her for granted. Ignored the signs that she was ill. Used her. Stolen from her. Chipped away at her. 

I took her hands in mine and cried as I apologized for my own part in her destruction. She hugged me with her warmth and for a moment there was so much strength and beauty in her face. She was not able to keep up the pretense for very long. Her shoulders sagged. Her breathing was labored from inhaling the pollution of our neglect. I asked her what she needed, what we all might do to make her well again. 

She told me that her recovery will be difficult for all of us because we have waited so long to deal with her injuries, but it is not impossible to help her heal. We simply need the will to make some changes in how we treat her. We will have to undergo a kind of group therapy together so that we might learn to live in harmony with her. She worries that if she breaks we may all suffer with her, so she wants more than anything that we will understand how much she needs us and we need her. 

I hugged her and made a promise that I would do my best to help her. I thanked her for all of the joy that she has brought me from day to day. I spoke of sacrifices that I am willing to make and insisted that I would rally others to stand by her side as well. I became animated with ideas for what we might all do to guarantee that her health improves. I was sincere, eager to please her, to let her know how much I love her. 

She smiled weakly at my enthusiasm. It pleased her to know that I truly want to help, but she warned me in her motherly way that the road ahead will not be easy. she insisted that there will be tough times when I simply want to give up the fight for her. She wanted me to understand that much like killing a cancer inside a human body, the journey ahead will seem to get worse before it gets better. Still, if we do nothing, she will surely begin to die. 

Hers was a stark truth that I did not want to hear. Mothers are like that sometime. Their honesty ruffles us, makes us want to put our hands over our ears so that we might pretend that everything is better than it really is. She gently put her hands on my face and turned my gaze so that I was looking into her loving eyes. She quietly explained that she would never become well all by herself. She described the way parts of her might become so diseased that they would cease to exist unless we provide her with the medicine and therapy that she needs. She urged me to understand that her time was running out. She pleaded with me to walk with her on the difficult journey ahead, knowing that it might be one of the most difficult things that I have ever done.

I earnestly promised her that I was ready to do what I must do for her. I reminded her of the ways that I have cared for my mother, my children, my husband, myself. I assured her that I knew how to endure and overcome tough times. I have the will to set things right. I also understand that I will not be able to save her alone, so I must find others to join me in the effort. 

We changed the subject for a time. Mother Nature did not want to leave me feeling sad or defeated. She is protective of me and all of my fellow humans. Her birds came to greet the two of us. The sunshine of her smile radiated around me. She pointed to the flowers that bloom all around us, the creatures great and small that live with us, the magnificent forests and mountains and rivers and oceans. I thanked her for those gifts and parted with a profound promise that I will do my best to make her well because I love her and I know she loves me.

The Movies

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I love movies and I’ve watched more than my fair share of them from the time that Blockbuster was a big thing to the present era of streaming. From the beginning of the pandemic I’ve viewed quite a number of films, particularly during the weeks of mandated lockdown. I haven’t been inside a movie theater in quite some time, and while I can get a quality screening in the comfort of my home, I find myself longing to return to the experience of sitting in one of those luxury loungers with a tub of popcorn and an icy cold drink. Somehow the experience of being surrounded by sound that leaves a tingle on my skin while viewing the action on a gigantic screen simply can’t be replicated at home. 

Going to the movies has been a staple in my life. My mom used to drop me and my brothers off at the Santa Rosa theater on Saturday mornings for the Fun Club while she did errands around town. For twenty-five cents we got several hours of entertainment. With ten or fifteen cents more our adventure included a snack. I can still recall the feelings of excitement and pure joy of those glorious days. 

Mama often took us to the drive-in movie locations that were in abundance back then. Since we did not have air conditioning in our home we never seemed to notice the heat of the summer nights. The only thing that bothered us were the mosquitos, and we combated them with a coil of repellant that we lit and placed on our dashboard. I don’t have a recollection that our efforts actually worked but after a time we would become so enthralled with the features films that we hardly noticed the bites of those obnoxious critters.

Going to downtown Houston back then was a big occasion. Most of the time we did all of our shopping in malls near our home, but once in awhile my mother would announce that we were going to drive into the heart of the city to spend the day. We’d walk up and down Main Street visiting the different stores and even splurge for lunch somewhere. We always knew that a trip downtown would include an afternoon matinee viewing of one of the latest films at one of the luxurious movie houses. They were so beautiful that it felt as though we were sitting in a palace. 

My mom often told us about her own youthful experiences of going to the movies. She made her excursions sound enchanting. She and her siblings would sometimes visit a neighborhood bakery before setting out for the theater. They would purchase bags of broken cookies for a nickel and hide them in their purses to munch on during the film. Then they jumped on a city bus and rode the short distance to Main Street. For around twenty-five cents they paid for both their movie ticket and a round trip ride. 

Mama described the movie experience back then as the golden age of film. As a teenager she had fallen in love with several leading men and made it point to go to their latest films. Her favorites seemed like odd choices to me, but who was I to question the tastes of her times? Later my mother-in-law would also tell of those exciting moments traveling downtown to see the very latest movie. They both made the experience should enchanting. 

I suppose that I have the heart of a true romantic. I still get excited about going to see a movie at a theater, but it has been a very long time since I have been willing to venture into one of those enclosed rooms. The virus has chased me away, and made me cautious of doing such things. I don’t know who will be in the area with me nor what their health status might be. I worry that being confined for a couple of hours with strangers might somehow result in my becoming infected with Covid, and so I avoid such places like the plague.

I would love for a movie theater to offer a different kind of viewing experience for careful people like myself. I would actually be willing to pay a premium price if they were to institute my idea. I would purchase a ticket in a heartbeat if I were assured that certain measures were taken to ensure that any level of exposure to the virus would be minimal. I’d feel far more comfortable if they allowed us to sit in reserved pods far apart from one another. I’d like to see them checking our temperatures and creating a vaccinated viewers only screening. I’d even prefer that we forego the snacks and wear masks the whole time. Of course I would be willing to pay for such privileges just to feel the thrill of movie watching again.

I understand that my idea sounds both bizarre and undoable. The cost of such a thing would have to take into account the fact that most of the money made at theaters comes from the concessions. Having so many vacant seats would have to be considered as well. I also realize that not everyone is as concerned about the spread of virus ridden droplets as I am, so the whole concept might end up being a bust, but it would be great for someone to try the experiment just to see how many takers there would be. I suspect that I am not the only person in town who determines my shopping and entertainment habits by observing safety measures these days. Surely there are others would would appreciate such a situation. Afterall, most Broadway theaters are only selling tickets to patrons who can prove that they are fully vaccinated.

Perhaps what I propose is overkill, but if it were to happen I would be first in line to purchase a ticket. I long for that expectant feeling when the lights dim and the images appear on the giant screen. Being lost in a cinematic world for a few hours does wonderful things for the soul. I miss that and hope every single day that one day I will be able to experience it again.