Sunday, October 9, 2016

What We’re Told, What We Experience

Suddenly it became autumn, but it was not so cold or inhospitable on the kitchen porch this morning that the dog and I could not sit there staring into space and thinking deep thoughts.
My deep thoughts started with, there’s nothing like a quick trip to the Emergency Room to remind you of your mortality.
Yep, I had another exciting trip to the hospital. I was first seen here on the island, and was told, no, you may not go home and go to bed. Stop fighting your fate and lie down on the gurney. You’re going on a little trip into town.
This is the trouble with having a medical history. All I did was nearly faint, but anything like that is viewed with suspicion and taken seriously now.
So there I went, although not with the sirens this time. Nearly fainting is not a siren occasion.
At the end of an interesting evening of various tests, I was diagnosed with “near-syncope,” medical jargon for “nearly fainting,” and sent home.
Once more I was overwhelmed by the loving response of, well, everyone. My band mates, especially Lynn Carrigan and Erin Durrett, made sure I got to the clinic. Lynn literally held me up for a while. They also made sure my grandson was taken care of, and brought me a few items from home for my trip. Joanna Gardiner picked up Marley, the dog, and kept her for the night. She also fed Mellow the cat, who may or may not have noticed I was gone for a few hours.
The people at the clinic took excellent kind care of me, even though I dropped in on them unexpectedly. The EMTs who sat with me in the ambulances were friendly and professional.
The ER staff, all women including the doctor, was kind and efficient. The Yellow Cab driver who happened to be in the ER waiting room when I was released took me straight to Fauntleroy.
My sister from another mother, Becky, dropped everything to pick me up at the ferry dock at midnight.
Everything and everyone was great, all the tests showed I was okay. The near-syncope was probably caused by a medication I take.
As I sat on the porch this morning and pondered how wonderful people were to me that night – including the man in the SUV on the ferry who, when he saw me carrying a suitcase, offered to give me a ride up to the parking lot, and Patsy, the ferry person who was going off-shift and offered me a ride home – I was deeply puzzled by all the kindness and love I had experienced.
Yes, puzzled. You see, I am at a loss when people are so great to me, whether it’s their job or they are friends who genuinely care about me or they are acquaintances or strangers who are kind. I experienced the essential goodness of human beings, as I am sure many of you have experienced in your hours of need. It was good to be reminded of that essential goodness, especially at a time when so much seems so wrong in the wider world, and so many people and nations are behaving murderously badly.
But I was puzzled because when I was young I was told, among other things, that I was a bad person, self-centered and lazy, and that no one would ever love me because I was fat (which I was not at the time, just for the record).
Thanks, Mom.
I have lived long enough to see those words proven to be lies, but somehow, deep down, when what I experience shows that the lies are nonsense, I am flabbergasted. The reality does not make sense because of what I was told, and believed.
I am pretty sure we have all experienced hard times and hard people. I’m pretty sure most of us were told lies about ourselves when we were too young to know better. I’m pretty sure that we’ve all experienced the incredible loving kindness of which people are capable. Perhaps a lot of us experience the cognitive dissonance I felt as I contemplated that loving kindness.
When someone is nice to you, do you feel you don’t deserve it? Do you have old recordings inside telling you that you are not worthy? Is that your problem, Bunky? Those are lies. You’ve lived long enough to experience reality now. Believe reality, not the lies.
Then head out on the porch with your dog and hang out and think deep thoughts. Those cosmos you planted from seed might bloom yet.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


I was supposed to write a column today. I meant to, I planned to, but then I got a message from Marie, Jim’s sweetheart, that Jim Hutcheson died today, and the news blew me sideways.
Jim was one of the guys with whom Rick played music when they were in high school in Germany, back in 1962. Rick always called him Hutch. They and another friend, Nandi Devam, played USO clubs all over Germany, covering every Kingston Trio song they could learn. They called themselves “The Balladiers.”
These kids had traveled from post to post with their military parents all their lives, so when they left Germany, they lost touch with each other.
Which is why Rick did not hear from Hutch again for about forty-seven years. We found the third member of the group, formerly Terry McNeil, who changed his name to Nandi Devam, living in Berkeley. He was looking for Hutch, and not finding him.
 Rick talked about Hutch a lot, and wished he knew whatever happened to him. Once we had the internet, I searched for him, but did not know that Jim’s last name was Hutcheson, not Hutchinson, so no success.
Then, on October 4, 2009, Rick went into the hospital in kidney failure. We had an eventful afternoon and evening at the ER. Late that night when Rick was admitted and sent to a hospital room, I went home. I was tired, I was stressed out, but of course I sat down to check my email.
I found a message from Normally I would delete such a message but for some reason I opened that one. It was a question: “Are you the Rick Tuel who sang with the Balladiers in Germany?” It was signed, Jim Hutcheson.
Wow! After all the years of wondering where and how he was, that was the day he got in touch. It felt like a strange serendipity.
I immediately wrote back to him saying yes, he had contacted the right Rick Tuel, and how wonderful it was to hear from him, and Rick went into the hospital today, and here’s his hospital room number. Please call him.
The next day when I walked into Rick’s hospital room, he was on the phone with Hutch, and they were catching up on a few decades of news.
After that, we remained in touch with him. About three months later, when Jim realized that Rick could not work because of his illness, he started sending us money every month. He kept that up for a year. This is an example of a practical generosity that knocked me out. That was the kind of guy Jim was. You don’t forget someone who quietly stands up for you like that.
He had a wicked and goofy sense of humor, which went a long way to explaining his friendship with Rick. Well, that and the music, of course.
In 2012 we went to a 50-year high school reunion in California, and saw him and Nandi. A little later that summer he and Marie flew out to Seattle for a few days for a visit. Then as time went on we heard less often from him. He had a busy life.
A few weeks ago, on the sixteenth of July, he posted a picture of himself walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding, a happy day.
And now he’s gone.
From comments on Marie’s Facebook page, he was consistent throughout his life. People call him a wonderful guy, a hero.
He was, among other things, a school vice-principal. He worked with kids who had learning disabilities. He mentored many young family members. He was a good guy. I’m sad for Marie, and for his adult children and nephews and other family members and friends.
I’m grateful that Rick knew him, and that I got to know him, and am simply grateful for his life, but sometimes in the shock of hearing of someone’s death, it takes a while to get to the gratitude.
Rest in peace, Jim Hutcheson.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

First World Reflections

 I was carrying a big sloppy bowl of compost out to the heap in the back yard this morning when I noticed that now that we eat a mostly vegetarian menu, the compost looks a lot like the food. It was one of those sobering moments when I paused to consider that what I throw out as waste here would in some places be considered a meal.
I have heard of people in other parts of the world who eat only every other day so they can pay for their schooling, or simply because they can only afford to eat every other day.
Which got me thinking about all the foods we eat or drink that are in some stage of decay. How do you suppose people got started looking at things that were rotting, tasting them, and saying, okay, I’m going to call that food? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that rotting things became classified as food because people were hungry.
It is not rotting anymore, but fermented, or aged, or cured. Thus we have sauerkraut, kim chi, kombucha, alcohol, and all the decaying milk products. Yum.
It came to my attention recently that there is a push to enlighten people on the beneficial effects of fermented foods. Yeah, okay, fine. I am old now, and cranky. All right, crankier. I have seen many food fads come and go. “You must eat this.” “You must not eat that.”
I have heard of the evils of trans-fats, nitrites, nitrates, sugar, soft drinks, diet soft drinks, dairy, meat, processed meat, processed anything, yeast, gluten, too many/not enough calories or carbs or fats, not enough water, and so on. If a human being has eaten or drunk it, some other human being has figured out why no one should eat or drink it.
These food rules and prohibitions seem like a first world problem to me. We have so much food we can turn up our first world noses at things we are told we should not ingest. Pretty nice for us, huh?
Presently I am stony broke, but I am stony broke on Vashon Island. I have a home. I have a car. The car has gas in the tank.
I have food in the cupboard. I throw rotting food into the compost. I go to the food bank up on the hill once a week and pick up a couple of bags of groceries. The people at the food bank are really nice.
I have clean safe water to drink, and I don’t have to walk anywhere with a bucket or barrel to get the water and carry it home. It comes right into my house in pipes, and I can have water any time, some of it hot, by turning on a faucet. Wow.
Granted, sometimes the water service is interrupted, and sometimes we get told not to drink the water without boiling it, and sometimes the hot water heater needs to be replaced. What a pain.
It’s first world pain, people. If a pipe breaks here and you lose your water, there are people working frantically day and night to fix the problem and get the water back on. Or maybe you are the one who has to do the frantic work on your little water system, so not so far from the third world, eh?
I have a dog and a cat. I keep animals for affection and companionship rather than for food.
While I do worry about money, it’s more gentle being poor in this time and place than it would be in a lot of other times and places. Plus, lots of things have happened in my lifetime which were worse than running out of money, which gives me some perspective.
When I was young I was often broke, and had to learn how to survive without a lot of money. I’m re-learning some of those old skills, and continuing some behaviors that have worked for me all the way along, like sitting on the kitchen porch, watching the birds, and listening to the breeze in the tall trees. The cat’s in my lap, kneading and drooling. The dog is out there lying in one of the year’s last warm patches of sunshine. She is feeling all the bliss of a short-haired dog in a cool climate.
We’re all feeling pretty good at home.
There is life after broke here in the first world. It’s good to remember that.

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