THE FALSE REALITY Chapter Two

Chapter Two

The Liar’s Reality Changes with the Agenda.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing is one who tells lies to those who are gullible.  These wolves are not to be confused with actual wolves who do not wear a disguise.  Remember the story of “Little Red Riding Hood?”  In the original, ancient folk tale, Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother are eaten by the wolf.  While later versions of the tale bastardize the ending by adding a lumberjack or hunter who saves them both, only the 10th century version makes sense.  That is, you must save yourself or perish, along with those you love.  Unless, of course, you wish to believe in Superman, Spiderman or Batman, in which case this story is not for you,  and best of luck in finding your White Knight!

Another tale, with a similar theme, is Lewis Carol’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” as told to Alice by Tweetledee and Tweetledum, in Through the Looking-Glass.  In the story, reason and logic is fruitless.  Compromise is sabotaged.  The ending is unfair and gruesome.  Again, however, the moral of the story is don’t believe everything you hear.  The Walrus and Carpenter never listen to anything said by the oysters, never varying from their agenda to deceive and exploit them.  To the very end, the Walrus continues to express insincere sympathy and regret, presenting evil as good, while the Carpenter openly mocks his annihilated victims with, “O Oysters . . . You’ve had a pleasant run!”

Advertisements

THE FALSE REALITY Chapter One

You have to live it to understand how crazy making the “false reality” can be.  False reality is generally practiced by a group.  Like a single weed in a broad meadow, the false truth of a single person isn’t strong enough to make much of an impact.  It is in a group that lies can and do overpower the reality and ultimately, the sanity, of its members.  Those who resist, who struggle to bring light into the dark cave of twisted recreations and distorted perceptions of the false reality, will fail, because it is not possible to rationalize with the insane.

The power of lies, in a family, for example, is far greater than in the case of a single individual who suffers from hallucinations.  And so, too, is the destructiveness of the insanity of a dishonest family, far greater than that of a solitary liar.

I married into such a family completely unsuspecting the madness that lay just beneath a thin veneer of middle class values and social respectability.  A wolf in sheep’s clothing was never more apt as the crest of my betrothed and his family.  That is not to lay any blame upon them.  They were what they were.  The telltale flags were glaring, had I chosen to heed them.  Too late, I realized my predicament.  And the wolves did what wolves do.  Working as a team, they assessed, trailed, encircled and prepared to devour their prey.

Discarded

“The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”

Requieum for a Nun, William Faulkner

 

“Mother, you can be proud,” she said.  “You have three beautiful, accomplished children!”

The words etched themselves upon my heart, as if an epitaph upon my gravestone.  I bit my tongue as I pondered my daughter’s meaning.

Is she proud of me?  Does she think her Mother is beautiful and accomplished? 

Not likely.  My daughter’s words, seemingly encouraging, were in fact as sharp as any dagger.  You can be proud Mother, not for any beauty, talent or strength of character you personally possess, because you are not worthy.  But you can be proud of your offspring.  Her words chilled rather than warmed.

I said nothing.  If I protested, she would hang up.  She would shut me out again.  The force of my disappointment was physical.  Trying to think of a response that would not draw her ire, I shuddered.  It was impossible.

The pause became awkward.  As so often happened, I was transported to a time, a happier time, in the past, a time when I was different, stronger in my sense of self, when the universe was friendly, when my life made sense.  The present was a Clockwork Orange.  Dealing with my children was like interacting with robots.

Knowing it was a mistake, forgetting momentarily, the painful present, I protested.

Even over the phone, I could feel her pull away from me, losing interest, shutting down, as I spoke of a former time.  Long ago was nothing like now.  Then, I was proud of myself, of her, of my family.  Now, I couldn’t seem to stay in the present.  There was so much pain, confusion, unfinished business, in the present.

What did I do wrong?  What sin did I commit so awful that my children cut off all communication?

When my daughter, my little one with the big eyes and the bigger grin, left home for college, she didn’t tell me she would no longer have relations with me.  There was no warning.   There was no discussion.  There was no appeal from the sentence of banishment.  I didn’t share her college experience even though she entered the same university where I had set out on my life, the place where I met her father.

I was thrilled when she told me she was going to my alma mater.  But not for long.  My happiness turned to shock and then inconsolable grief when she wouldn’t let me visit her.  She refused to let me help her move into her dorm room.  She declined the gifts I bought for her.  She told me not to come to parent’s day.  “Why not?,” I asked, indignant.  “It would be awkward.”  My initial joy turned to infinite sadness as the years passed.

We didn’t talk at all, after that one phone call.   During her four years at the school where both her dad and I had studied, I never visited my daughter at university.  I never saw her dorm room or even a photo of it.  I didn’t know anything about her studies.  I didn’t hear about her experiences.  I didn’t meet her friends.  I wasn’t invited to her graduation.  No reason was given other than, “It would be awkward.”

This phone call came three years after she graduated.  I still didn’t know her major.  In fact, I didn’t even know where she was living.

Why, I wondered.  Why could I not come to parent’s day?  Why was I not invited to your graduation?  Why?  Why?  Why?

I dare not ask these questions.  They just swirled around in my head, never ceasing, going nowhere, repeating and repeating aimlessly and endlessly.  There were no answers.  I could not think of a reason for my discard.  I had done nothing to deserve being erased.

I wanted to scream, to loudly and forcefully object.  I stifled my protest.  Resistance would only bring more torture.  Any show of anger would be condemned and I would be banished, again.  She would say goodbye . . . or just . . . hang up . . . who knows for how long . . . . perhaps for years . . . . perhaps forever.

Oh no!  I must make this conversation work! 

I became tearful.  I was blowing it!  Trying to steady myself, my fingers gripped the phone until they ached.  But I could tell my child, my now adult child, had lost interest in the conversation.  She waited for me to run out of steam.

I thought of the day she left.  Her older sister, my first born, helped her pack her things.  Then they sat with me by the pool for a moment in the summer sunshine.  The younger daughter jumped into the pool.  The older daughter firmly declined.  Her boyfriend sat poolside.  He looked like he would love to jump into the sparkling blue water, but he just parroted his love interest.  My son, the middle child, was studying out of state.  He didn’t answer my calls either.

What a perfect time for a poolside cookout, I mused.

Our home was a roomy cape cod, set on 5 acres, with a pasture, barn and riding arena.  My two horses and the children’s pony were grazing in the field next to the pool, watching us, surprised to see such a gathering.  Three dogs and two cats lounged nearby.

The house will be enormous for one person.  

I looked past the crepe myrtles, loaded with huge pink blossoms, that lined the far side of the black iron fence encircling the pool, at the horses.  They instantly noticed my gaze, raised their heads and began walking lazily over to the fence.  The grass under their feet was a soft green carpet, more plush than a Persian rug.  I mowed their field weekly on my ancient riding mower because there was more grass than they could eat and if not mowed, it quickly grew up to their shoulders.  They were round and glossy, happy to have visitors.

I sighed and turned back to the group of young folks.  They were lively, full of youth’s optimistic expectation, obviously excited about the departure of the youngest.  She was barely 17.

They loaded up and we said our goodbyes, their eagerness overpowering my reluctance.  The car pulled out of the long driveway that ran between two sets of four board fences.  My first born was at the wheel.  My youngest was in the front passenger seat.  The man-boyfriend sat in the back.

As the car turned out of the drive, the baby of the family threw up her arm, in salute, and left it up until the car went around the bend and out of sight.  I watched her arm, until I could see it no more.

The horses came round to the front pasture and stood beside me, on the other side of the fence.  They stretched out their heads, hopeful for a scratch.  I paid no notice, gazing at the empty road, seeing, in my mind, the little black car, the long slender arm slung upward, fingers reaching for the sky.

My Journey to Liberty Horsemanship – Chapter 3

Before long, the noonday rays of the late fall sun and the bird’s chattery chirp brought on dreamy half-sleep.  My dreams were of Cupcake.  In my mind’s eye, I went back in time, from the dashed hopes of this morning, to the promise of the day he was born.

Ten years earlier, when I was riding at a different barn, Smithwood Farm, there was a mare in foal.  The mare was old, in her upper teens, a pale grey, the color of a ghost.  The barn owner, Rubin Smith, hovered over her as if she were carrying the offspring of Secretariat himself.  She was given special supplements and spent her afternoons in the paddock closest to the riding ring, where Rubin could keep an eye on her.

Rubin was a busy man.  On a typical day, he supervised the barn hands, assisted the younger children in tacking up, mounting, dismounting and removing tack, answered their many questions and those of their mothers and siblings, gave lessons, managed the delivery of enormous quantities of hay, feed and shavings, planned the shows held regularly at the local show grounds and, most importantly, kept a close eye on every single child and every single pony.  There was a lot of coming and going.

In addition to the boarders and regular lesson students, folks often dropped in to purchase a pony.  Rubin was well known locally and throughout the country, as the “Pony Guru.”  His riders were always the top winners of each division, from beginner cross rails to the most competitive classes in the prestigious shows, the most prestigious of all being Pony Finals.  Despite his proven record and all the activity at his barn, I couldn’t help but notice how Rubin fussed over that old mare.

As she grew rounder and rounder, the mare’s belly became the most striking aspect of her streamlined, thoroughbred frame.  The sire was a well known Dartmoor pony stallion, Cruachan Valentine, shipped as a weanling from the moors of Devon, to stand in Georgia.  He was ten years old, a typey example of the centuries old breed that is native to south western England.

Dartmoor ponies are rare.  Some have said they more rare than giant pandas.  Regrettably, they are on the Endangered Breeds List of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. However, it just happened, at Smithwood Farm, there were lots of Dartmoor ponies, at least half a dozen, by my estimate.  And every one of these ponies was a sibling, half-sibling, cousin, aunt or uncle of the soon to be born foal.

Watching these ponies and their young jockeys, I observed first hand that Dartmoor ponies are athletic, smart, kind and have extraordinary movement.  They also generally live long healthy lives.  The Smithwood Dartmoors were various shades of bay, with one exception, an adorable grey gelding, whose name was Arthur.  He had large, dark eyes that peeked out from under a thick shock of platinum forelock.  Arthur was the foal’s uncle, and the designated ride for the very youngest riders.

There were other ponies too, Welsh, Connemara, Shetland and colored ponies of unknown origin. And there were a jillion kids who came after school every day to ride. Rubin stood in the middle of the ring and directed the exuberant mob.

 

“Heels down.” “Sit Up.” “Shoulders back.” “Eyes up.” Riders approaching a jump were told, “Wait. Wait. Wait.” “Ho to the trot.” or “Look to the next jump.”

 

Sometimes Rubin stopped everyone to let a less experienced child canter around the ring. Other times, he called out the jumps and all the children rode in tandem, each one taking a turn to jump, while the rest of the group waited patently at a halt. All the while Arthur would follow Rubin around, safely and adorably carrying a preschooler, who held the reins and kicked mightily. The mothers would site ringside, chatting and holding snacks and small bottles of frozen orange juice for their children. Falls were rare and, despite the bedlam, none of the children came to harm.

 

I approached Rubin and asked if the foal was for sale.  He named a price and seemed surprised when I said okay.  Before he could change his mind, I asked if I could go ahead and close the deal right away, before the foal was born.  I wanted a Dartmoor pony for my daughter and there wasn’t another one for sale within a thousand miles.

“At least wait until it’s on the ground.”

“I’m ready to buy it now.”

And so the deal was made, and my daughter became the proud owner of a pony.  Only, we didn’t know if the pony was a colt or a filly, what color it was or anything else about it.  None of this mattered.  Our excitement was boundless.

My Journey to Liberty Horsemanship – Chapter 2

 

Chapter 2

The cowboy, Eric Downey, who didn’t charge cowboy rates, stood by, ready to continue the training.  A wise man, and very experienced, he never got excited.  The dust began to settle.  Tipping his head and his cowboy hat in my direction, Mr. Downey asked, “Want to try again?”

I knew without any doubt that this kindly man could get through to Cupcake, correct whatever was causing the anxiety and hand him over to me, a safe and willing ride.  This knowledge, while greatly reassuring, surprised me by giving me the confidence to consider whether there were other options to what is commonly referred to in the horse world as a “tune up.”

The problem, whatever it was, could not be corrected in a day.  It would require a few weeks or perhaps a few months of full time re-training to get Cupcake back on track.  For some unfathomable reason, I no longer found it appealing to send Cupcake away.

Mr. Downey was certainly up to the task because he was the trainer who initially started Cupcake under saddle, after a series of other trainers failed.  We hired exactly five trainers, two hunter-jumper riders, a medaled dressage specialist, an eventer and a western rider, who said the pony was “rank” and would never be rideable.  I had taken their advice to heart and given up on Cupcake.

By chance one day, after a clinic, I mentioned that we had tried but no one could ride Cupcake.  Mr. Downey said, “I can.”  I looked over at the man and wondered if he was off his rocker.  But he introduced himself and the rest is history.  As good as his word, within three weeks, we were riding Cupcake.  Even though he was not inexpensive, this cowboy delivered.  And he was widely known for his practice of “gentle horsemanship.”  His staff also took excellent care of the horses he brought in for schooling, so I had no concerns in that department.

Once Cupcake was going safely under saddle, he was ridden regularly for several years by both adults and children.  He had expressive gaits, jumped cross rails, was comfortable on trails and never once put a foot wrong.  On the contrary, the pony enjoyed being handled and ridden, without a single exception.

But then life mixed things up, as will happen.  I moved across town and changed jobs and barns.  I gave Cupcake time off from being ridden, thinking it would be good for him to just play in the pasture.  After all, I made sure my competition horse enjoyed a few months off every year, at the end of the show season, which seemed to benefit him.

I happily anticipated riding Cupcake again and prepared him carefully for this maiden ride.  Several times, I had tacked and untacked him, picked his feet, curried and brushed his coat until it gleamed.  I took him on long walks around the farm.  His emphatic protest to just a foot in the stirrup was completely unexpected.

 

Birds Don’t Cry

We received the news today.  It is a death sentence.

I sit motionless, thoughtless, as the words from John’s voicemail echo and re-echo in my head:  “I have cancer.”

I cannot think or move or breathe.  Then I almost laugh.  This is a joke, I thought, a very bad joke.  Or maybe, it’s a ploy, another crisis fabricated by my best friend who, admittedly, is a drama magnet.

Simply put, John craves attention.  And he will do anything to get it.  John’s life is filled with crisis, both real and imagined.  That’s the downside.  The upside is, he is endlessly entertaining.  That is, if you have a picket-fence mentality, like mine.

We are opposites, John and I.  But in our contrast lies the secret to our long-time friendship.  It’s trite to say, “opposites attract.”  But in our case, the differences have for 24 years provided the fuel for a continuing and stimulating curiosity about the strangeness of the other, that has sustained our friendship.

While I am steady, loyal and predictable, John is peculiar, mercurial and erratic.  And John is witty.  He never managed to finish school.  In fact, he never finished anything to my knowledge.

I, on the other hand, suffer from serious and chronic pangs of guilt.  Even the most trivial of projects can trigger a bout of psychic torment.  The misery descends like a sudden thunderstorm on a sunny day, even before the job is begun.  The mere possibility that I might neglect my duty to complete some self-assigned chore, that I might be behind schedule or that I might overlook or half-heartedly complete a task, haunts me like a cloud of noxious gas.

John, on the other hand, works hard to avoid work.  This gets him into constant scrapes.  He is perpetually short of money.  Dunning notices relentlessly remind him he is at risk of losing his car or home or running water.  At times, he is homeless.  He often goes without food.  His financial problems inevitably become my financial problems.  I’ve considered giving him a stipend every month, just for my own peace of mind.  So far, I haven’t done so, but only because I am certain that no matter how much I give him, John will find a way to stay in need.  Because, like I said, he craves attention more than anything, even more than food or running water.  And then, there’s also the fact that I vicariously, and secretly, celebrate his rebellion.

When I first heard the news, I was skeptical.  But then, a mutual friend confirmed it.  Annette had been roped into taking John to the emergency room.  He couldn’t drive because his brakes were shot.  I knew this because John always let everyone know if he couldn’t pay for something.  Sooner or later, one or another of his many friends would step forward and offer to take care of the problem.  He was waiting to see which one of us would pay for his new brakes.  Of course, he had driven until the brakes were so worn they had to be replaced, not merely repaired.  And even if his minivan had been roadworthy, a circumstance seldom occurring, he probably didn’t have gas money.

This wasn’t the first time he had gone to the emergency room.  In fact, he had been to the ER three times in the last year, complaining of kidney stones.  Each time, the doctors pumped him full of painkillers.  He would enjoy a warm, soapy shower in the spotless bath attached to his private room.  The nurses brought him plates of food and flirted with him.  His sheets were clean.  And he was discharged with several prescriptions for more pain medicine, enough for a binge.  He would be semi-conscious for a week.

But this time was different.  The hospital did a scan.  The scan showed a deformity.  It was pancreatic cancer, late stage, untreatable.  John was told he had only 60 days to live.

I wasn’t convinced.  Cancer?  60 days? 

 My chin and shoulders droop.  I stop breathing; then suck in deeply.  The air is thin.  Everything is hazy, out of focus.  I look down, then raise my eyes.  But I do not really see anything at all.  I cannot comprehend it, this number, this quota, this deadline.  I tell myself, It’s just an estimate.  Not a precise date.  Not an appointment.  Not a death sentence.  But it was.  Yes, it was.

John comes out of the house, bounding down his stoop.  He greets me as if it is just any other day.  I look at him closely.  In the brilliant October warmth, patches of sun and shadow play over his face, as he looks back at me.  It seems as if, to him, 60 days is the same as 60 years.  He is his ever, cheerful self.

“The doc says I have 60 days!  But I’m going to beat this!  I’m not dead yet!”

I nod, unable to speak, still flipping through the files in my mind.  Cancer!  A new problem to solve.  How do we beat cancer? 

There is no file.  There is no appeal.  There is no strategy.  There is not even a defined problem.  There is . . . nothing.  My file on eternity is empty.

I move quickly from denial, to shock, then negotiation.  Okay.  Okay.  John has a date, 60 days from today.  Everyone has a date.  My aged pets have a date.  My mother can no longer hold her glass of tea, unassisted.  She has a date, not far in the future.  My dad’s date has come and gone.  My brother’s date has come and gone.  My cousin’s dad passed in his sleep.  I begin to list all the folks I know whose date has come and passed.

It’s just a date.  I have a date too.  Everyone has a date.  All of us, every living thing, has a death sentence.  We just don’t know what date that is.  So we ignore it.  It’s as if it’s somewhere in eternity.  But it may be next week.  It may be tomorrow.  It may be in the next few minutes.

The only difference here is, John has been given his date.  Same as those on death row.  But nothing has really changed.  He’s had that date since he was born.  I’ve had my date since the day I was born too.  I just don’t know what it is.  This is just another day, like any other day, with sunshine dapples, and sweet breezes and soft shadows.  Along with the secure feeling that the paradise that is now will continue.

I shudder.  A chilling thought occurs to me.  60 days is dang specific!  I fast forward 60 days and almost instinctively, I want more time.  More time for preparation.  There is never enough time for preparation!

Are we prepared?  Most surely not!  I want more time to prepare for separation, for saying our good-byes, for doing the things we’ve put off, for saying the things we’ve not said, for doing the things we’ve done thousands of times, for saying the things we say all the time, for . . . eternity.

As always, John pulls me back to the present.  “Hey, my bird feeder is empty!”

He seldom asks me directly to do things he wants me to do for him.  Well, why would he?  Being a conscientious soul, I am quick to discern needs, and quicker still to solve a problem.

“See, I hung it there, just outside my bedroom window.  I can watch the birds from my bed!”

John is an avid bird watcher.  An aficionado, he prefers high-end, wild bird seed.  When he doesn’t have money, I fill his feeder.  It is a cylindrical design, clear plastic, with perches for the birds on all sides, from top to bottom, protected by a wire squirrel guard to keep out the pesky critters.  The next day, I dutifully go to the gourmet grocery and purchase the most expensive wild bird seed in the store.

“Did you get the bird seed?  I hope you bought the good stuff!”

As I pour the colorful seeds into the feeder, I contemplate their future.  I consider the strong possibility John will never again ask me, obliquely, to fill his bird feeder.  It is likely he will not live long enough for the birds to eat all of the seed I pour into the feeder.  Like a sand clock, as the birds take the seeds and the seed level drops in the cylinder, John’s life will ebb away.

I imagine the seed in the feeder dipping lower and lower, knowing this is a certainty, as sure as the fact that John will stop breathing.  The little birds, delightful chickadees and sparrows and finches, the fat robins, the cheeky blue jays, the stunning cardinals and the plain brown thrashers, flutter gaily, back and forth, here to there, around the feeder, singing their signature calls, alighting softly, or sometimes hovering, to reach into the feeder, the seed level infinitesimally dropping with each peck, to the moment of John’s last breath.  I scrutinize the feeder, as I pour the seed into it, trying to guess where the seed level will be at the moment John exhales for the last time, and is no more.  I try to comprehend time, this new time, measured by a column of bird seed, counted by each peck, as the birds flit about the feeder, and John’s life is etched away.  Then I gasp, as I realize, the birds will continue to visit the feeder, just outside John’s bedroom window, even after John has passed.

Well after all, it’s just another deadline.  I’ve been meeting deadlines since I can remember.  There were deadlines in elementary school, high school, college, graduate school and finally, law school, where I struggled mightily with deadlines.  My life was punctuated by deadlines, deadlines for exams, essays, book reports, national tests, a masters’ thesis and finally, the bar exam.  Then on to real life, where deadlines took an even greater death grip, deadlines for briefs, deadlines for trials, deadlines for appeals, deadlines for bills that had to be paid, things that had to be done, the grass had to be mowed, the dishes washed, the furniture dusted, the bed made, my suits dry cleaned, my shoes shined or else, I would be a mess when I walked into the courtroom.

This deadline, John’s date with death, I dread it and I resent it.  For the first time, I rebel.  No!  No!  No!  I won’t go along!  I won’t comply!  I won’t conform!  I won’t accept this deadline!  I will not!

In that moment, a seed flowered.  I became, in that instant of recognition, a revolutionary.  Me, the most ordinary, dutiful citizen, devoted to convention, now an anarchist, defiant, uncooperative, unyielding!  No!  No!  Don’t leave me!  Of course, this changed nothing.

After several weeks, John no longer insisted, “I’m going to beat this!”

His pain worsened steadily.  He lived on pain medication, eating less and less, until he swallowed only a few bites each day.  He asked for fast food.  But when I brought KFC or a Big Mac, he could not take even one bite.

Finally, the pain was so great, he could stand it no more.  On the 58th day, John asked me to call an ambulance to take him to hospice.  It was a lovely Saturday afternoon in late December.  The neighborhood children were outside, running from yard to yard or riding their bikes up and down the street, squealing and laughing.  When the emergency vehicle arrived, I stood just outside his bedroom door and looked on, as three burly med techs lifted John, ever so gently, and placed him on the stretcher.  He had lost so much weight, his head was large on his slender frame, his face angular, his eyes prominent over sunken cheeks.

He looked directly into my eyes, never wavering, as they rolled him out, lifted him and the stretcher down the steps, and rolled it across the grass to the waiting ambulance.  It was the last time, we both knew, he would pass over his threshold.  The last time down the front steps and past the enormous magnolia tree that shielded the yard from the street.  This was it.

John was leaving his home, his dogs, his cherished things.  He would soon leave this world.  The 60th day, execution day, awaited.

He smiled and waved at me.  I smiled and waved back.  Then he was lifted into the open double doors of the waiting ambulance.  His eyes never left mine, as the heavy doors closed. I stood there, not knowing what else to do, in the cozy sunlight.  A slight breeze jostled the few leaves left on the trees, carrying a faint drift of winter jasmine.  The sky overhead was brilliantly azure.

My eyes trained on the ambulance as it pulled away from the curb and slid quietly down the street.  At the intersection, at the bottom of the hill, it stopped, then turned right and picked up speed as it passed out of view.

The birds merrily chirped and swirled around the bird feeder.

EULOGY FOR MY MOTHER: THE PART LEFT OUT [OF THE ACTUAL EULOGY]

I never had a falling out with my Mother.  In this I am very blessed.  Differences of opinion, yes, but there was never a lessening of her love, support and loyalty.

I always thought my parents and grandparents were the smartest people ever to walk this planet.  That is, until I was about 19.

By that time, I was an honor roll student at the most expensive private university in the state.  It was an ivory tower campus where privileged young adults finished their education in a sheltered environment.  The students were well aware that it was no ordinary achievement to be admitted to this university, much less to be able to afford the tuition.  As a consequence, and because the faculty and staff reinforced this perception, the students, myself included, exuded a certain sang froid.  Because I was at the top of my class (names and grades for exams were posted publicly back then, an excellent practice), I studiedly honed this attitude, this sang froid.

Along about this time, at the age of 19 or 20 years, I began to think I was smarter than my parents, siblings, grandparents and cousins.  I no longer thought they knew everything.  Instead, I began to question their values as I was introduced to the themes of the great philosophers and religious leaders and to the political, social and literary history of western civilization.  Money played a part.  The principles and values of my rural upbringing began to recede as I stepped into the ranks of the six figure income, upon my graduation.

Things went smoothly and by the time I entered middle age, I had accomplished all of my goals:  successful career, handsome, accomplished husband, 3 beautiful children, two-story traditional at the end of a cul de sac, in upscale neighborhood, with tennis and pool facilities, social and professional club membership, private school for the children, frequent vacations and lavish holiday celebrations.  We owned several houses, expensive cars and even an 800 acre farm in Kansas.

Then one day, it all fell apart.  The day after, things got worse.  And so it went, day after day, my life became a series of failures.  This had never happened to me before and I was in shock and without resources to face such challenges.  Life was nothing short of miserable.  Calamities continued, each one more devastating than the last.  I took each fall hard.  It seemed God had deserted me.  This went on for years.

I searched for the reason I was experiencing failure after failure after failure.  I could not understand why this had happened to me.  How had I come to such an awful circumstance, when everything had seemed so full of promise?

My life was ruined.  I lost everything.  My dreams were smashed.  I lost my very identity.  As my husband walked out on me, he said, “I’m taking my name back!”  Of course, he could not do this, but the fact that he wanted his name back was devastating.  He was, I thought, my best friend.

My life became an exhausting routine of repeating the same mistakes, with the same disappointing results.

In the late stages of middle age, during this long, fruitless struggle, I began to wonder why my family members had avoided the very problems that dogged me.  Despite my elite education and brainy job, something was amiss.   That something was covert, dark, illusive.

Now I knew Mathew 19:24:  “And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  I had heard this all my life.  It was repeated often enough, in Church and Sunday School, for me to be able to recite it, word for word, from memory.  I agreed with it.  I thought it was true.  I just didn’t believe it.

Finally, I realized, after much prayer and study and questioning, that my problems could be traced back to one afternoon.  I knew the very day, the very instant, it happened.  I had sold out.  I was 20 years old at the time.  And I had begun to compromise and even discard, my agrarian, small-town, Bible-belt values.  In an “ah-ha!” moment, I realized my problems began with the choice I made that day, a choice that was inconsistent with my values.  And I realized that my problems were the result of the wrong choices that followed, in due course, from that initial poor decision.  In other words, it was exactly as the old saying teaches, I had brought my problems, failures and catastrophes upon myself.

After that “ah-ha!” moment, things became crystal clear.  I had compromised my principles and made  choices that were in conflict with those values.  I had not honored my Mother and Father and I had devalued the values taught to me by my parents and extended family.

I realized that their agrarian values and common sense approach to life were a treasure map, a guide that would have piloted my life journey safely.  I, and only I, had made the choice to deviate from that map.  The consequences were disastrous.

At last, I returned to the teachings and values and common sense practices of my family, my Mother, in particular.  And all my problems vanished.

This is the principal reason I wanted, from that moment, to be as close as possible to my Mother and other family members.  I wanted to be near the source of wisdom:  my Mother.

This was the true reason I lived with my Mother during her dotage.  Not because, as some might assume, she could not take care of herself.  But because I had not been able to take care of myself.

Thank you Mom for the last few years living with you.  They were my salvation.