Sunday, February 28, 2010

look sideways

I wrote this a few years ago-a true story. My good friend Phyllis Ring has a new book out, "Life at First Sight"--a collection of her newspaper columns. She mentions me in the dedication which puzzled me. I had forgotten that I had given her permission to use part of this story for a column. Here is the original piece.


We all seek heaven. We might not call it by that name, but we all seek it. For some heaven is straight up and turn left at the Pearly Gates. For others it is the memory of yesterday or the hope of tomorrow.
When I was a child, my mother assured me that ice cream was plentiful and free in heaven. A cold peace enveloped my young heart on that long ago hot summer's day. Speaking of cold, Maine is presently in the grasp of artic fingers. Frigid dark nights filled with stars all eager to tell their own story of heaven. Fortunately, the book of God is big enough to hold the stories of all the stars and planets. Whether the story is about dinosaurs and butterflies playing musical chairs or a would be Aristotle with a whiskey bottle thinking way too loud disturbing the elderly lady in the room down the hall who watches the same old movie over and over again.
Again, who is to say what heaven is or isn't? The Bible says His mansion has many rooms. Perhaps we will have our own room and get together for lunch in a gigantic cafeteria which calls to mind the day I saw heaven while eating lunch in a much smaller cafeteria.
My work entails bringing brain injured clients to a day program run by a private foundation called SteppingStones. Everything takes place in a rambling modern community building honey combed with social and charitable organizations. All ages, the well and the unwell, mingle peacefully in the common lunch room. A SteppingStones member, who was hit by a car as a child, was being fed his lunch by his caregiver. Food was dripping down his chin on to his bib. He was unable to clean his own face or even asked for it to be cleaned. Except for one arm that seemed to have a life of its own, he had little control over his own body, but he had total control over his own heart.
For some mysterious reason he had become the friend of a group of three year olds who attend a pre school in the corner of the cafeteria. After they finish their lunch they gather around their wheel chair bound friend. They tell him about their day and are not bothered that he is unable to answer them or that bits of food fall off his bib unto the floor. After all, they have the same problem.
And then I saw heaven. The young man in the wheel chair raised his one usable arm and it settled softly like a broken winged bird on a little girls shoulder. She smiled up at him and he smiled down at her.
So here is what I know about heaven. Life is made up of moments and some moments are pure heaven. You need to look carefully for them because sometimes they happen in a crowded lunch room and if you are always looking up, you may never see them. I suggest looking sideways.
I also believe they serve free ice cream in heaven because my mother told me so.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Post script on the Larry story. Maybe the mercy of God is not an unsolvable mystery. Perhaps, like Larry, we get a Polly who enters our life when we need help the most. I see my wife Karen in that light, an undeserved gift of grace, of mercy. Our 28th anniversary is in a few weeks and we will go back to Lake Mohonk in New York to celebrate. It is not easy to be with someone who has the lonely mind of a writer that often does not live in the present.
Back to Larry. Eventually, Larry reconciled with his father who lived the last months of his life in a nursing home in New Hampshire. I met the father once expecting an ogre, but time had reversed for him and he was more like a happy child. The home did not use restraints and his father was falling out of bed with the result being some nasty bruising. Larry would go over at night and sleep on the floor next to the old man's bed. He would fall on Larry, who was much softer than the floor. His presence also kept him from wandering. Seldom, if ever, do we get to repay our angel of mercy. All we can do is find someone who does not deserve our kindness on the scale of men and for one moment be an angel.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Power of Words and footsteps

I mentioned that during Tuesday night's show with Kathy Bates an old story about the power of words came to mind. Sometimes you don't know how much someone means to you until after they have left the world. Larry just didn't leave the world, he left my world. He made me a better person by often getting made at me for being set in my ways and people don't often get mad me and I got a kick out of that.
His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps as an engineer. He sent Larry to an expensive college in Mass. and he expected Larry to return in four years an engineer. There was no discussion and no choice. Larry gave it all wanting more than anything to make his father proud of him. It is an old story with an old ending. There was no engineer hiding in Larry waiting to come out. There was a goofy, fun loving guy, but no engineer. He called his father and told him that he just couldn't do it and that he had dropped out of college. His father then spoke the words that picked up Larry and threw him down a bottomless pit. "You are no son of mine."
Larry drifted along doing odd jobs, but every year he fell further until he landed in the New Hampshire woods in an abandoned cabin. Each morning he would walk through the woods and take a right when he came to the road until he joined a group of other young people in the woods who did drugs. Winter was coming closer and there was no heat inside the cabin and summer was too far away to save him. Today was going to be his last day. He planned to walk through the woods and the take a right, as he did every day, when he came to the road and simply take too much drugs. He stood at the edge of the road crying-there should always be one person crying when you die, but Larry turned left, not right. Maybe every part of him had given up but his two feet-who knows? He never had an explanation. He was wearing the same clothes for months and it was just as long before he had a bath. He walked on the side of the frozen road still falling--still going no where. A lady with pure white hair and an even purer smile who everyone in the world would scream at her not to stop, stopped and offered him a ride. She spoke in gentle words. There are countless words in countless languages but Polly only knew the gentle ones. She took Larry to her house and treated him like her son . Larry was able to take a bath, and dress in her real son's clothes who was in Europe. He joined her in the living room, but saw that her eyes were closed and that she was lost in either meditation or prayer. He quietly took a walk around the beautiful old house and in one room on the wall was a painting of a very old man with white hair and a white beard and he was smiling at Larry. It was a face and a smile Larry had seen as a child one night in a dream and Larry stood staring at that face. He returned to Polly in the living room who was setting a table with hot tea and food. She told him about the man in his dream and His teachings. Larry became a Baha'i and I met him years later at Green Acre in Eliot where I live and where the man in the dream visited in 1912 after regaining His freedom after fifty years of being a prisoner. Larry and I would sit on the porch overlooking the Piscataqua River and he would tell me great stories about his crazy younger days, but the story I liked best was a quiet one that had no ending. His voice became soft--gentle even. "Ronnie, to this day if I am inside I will know Polly's footsteps on the porch stairs and I will rise to my feet and get ready to hug her." I wonder if Polly heard Larry's footsteps at Heaven's door and was there waiting for him. The power of words and footsteps that either take you to right or to the left.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gripes not Grapes

My friend Carolyn corrected me-bunchofgripes is the blog and not grapes. Anyway check it out.
Some thoughts after interviewing the incredible Kathy Bates last night on the radio show. There is a two inch high step- up to get into the radio station and even that was a challenge to overcome and I have trouble getting over D&D forgetting my sweet n' low in my morning coffee. She taught kindergarten years ago and the children felt bad for her that she was sick and it made her voice sound weird. She tried explaining how cp confined her to a wheel chair and altered her voice, but the kids only wanted to be sure that she brought her really nice rolling chair with her every day. A week later a boy in the class came up to her telling her how happy everyone in the class was that her voice was "all better". Kathy smiled when she told the story. The kids simply adjusted to her voice and it only took a matter of days. I ask myself how long does it take me to adjust to peoples imperfections. Kathy educates health care professionals on the language they use--a person has a disability, they are not a disabled person. She made the point that equating a person's identity with a disease or a disability places a ceiling on that person's potential. I ask her why she tried so hard and her shaky arms that have a life of their own went up in the air and she exclaimed, "Because I want to change the world!!". There was such happiness in her voice and face when she said that. So, my dear friends of the heart out there beyond a hug and a kiss on the cheek in cyberville I ask you as well as myself, "Can we do what we do for at least one day because we want to change the world?" More when I have more energy on the power of words.

Who says there should be a title

I'm home today playing hooky catching up on my high school buddy's blog. Carolyn O'Daly lives on Martha's Vinyard with her doctor husband. They made their money back in the day by injecting botox directly into the brain of fellow high school students. I was able to survive Mr. Hughes social studies class with a little help from the O'Dalys. I call them up from time to time if I can't get out of going to a cousin's wedding and need a refresher shot.
Of course, very little of this is true. Carolyn does live on the Vinyard and does whip her servants if he spaghetti is not aldente and she does write a delightful blog about island life called bunchograpes. She was writing about obituaries and how it required reading between the lines if you really wanted to get the facts. Like "Martha Smith, 105 years old, passed away peacefully in her sleep."-doesn't really tell you all that much, but at the end of the obit the family asks that contributions to a charity called "Find old people who get lost in the woods and die"
Anyway, her blog made me recall an old Maine joke. Ned and Mike were friends and loners who lived side-by-side forever. Their only shared activity was taking their row boat out on the river where they would fish in stony silence the entire day. One sad day Mike passed away which got Ned to thinking, "I'm his only friend and someone needs to post his obituary. So Ned walks into the local newspaper office and makes his way to the appropriate desk. He stood silent in front of the busy reporter until the man looked up. "Can I help you?"
"I need to post an announcement. My friend Mike passed away."
"Tell me what you want in the paper". The reporter said with pen in hand.
Ned scratched his chin and replied, "Mike died"
The reporter was stunned. "That is all you want to say? You know the minimum obit is five words and you get charged for five words whether you use them or not. 'Mike died' is only is only two words. Are you that is all you want to say/"
Ned, who came from a long tradition of Yankee thrift was caught between a terse rock and a penurious hard place. After being frozen in time for a minute he said, "O.K. Put in 'Car for sale'"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ziggy-Part Two

I'm back after a grueling day, but Ziggy beckons. I'm trying to remember the story long since providing amusement in a land fill somewhere in New York. I have a mental picture of Ziggy zooming(a fine example of alliteration) around the track beer can in hand battling for the lead. The pack of speed skaters make the final turn and head for the finish line. Fifteen feet from the finish line Ziggy's cheap artificial leg detaches and Ziggy utters an epithet in Bangladeshian. Miraculously,the artificial leg lurches forward. Ziggy's leg came in first and Ziggy came in second. The King of Norway draped a gold medal around the leg at the medal ceremony. Ziggy, with a bathroom plunger for support, also stood at attention with a can of beer in his other hand. His silver medal was attached to an extra long chain which conveniently covered an embarrassing hole in Ziggy's pants. Tears collected on the tip of his red nose as the National Anthem of Poland "I don't want her, you can have her, she's to fat for me" polka blared over the loud speakers. Ziggy was able to retire to a small cottage in the country after selling his leg on Ebay for one million dollars.


I like the Olympics. I really do but sometimes they go overboard with the heart tugging. Last week Sidney was on life support with a ski wedged in his ear and tonight he goes for the gold in the down hill event. The commentator asks if the ski still wedged in his ear will throw off his balance. Every year the same formula is used to draw the couch potatoes into drama. Personally, emotional couch potatoes scare me. Lethargy provides a certain comfort. Anyway ages ago I wrote and threw away a story about a Polish speed skater who loved to race but came from a dirt poor country. I made him Polish because I'm half Polish and it didn't seem so reprehensible. I don't God is going to the see the logic of that argument. I'm hoping he has an off day when he calls me to account.
So my skater, Ziggy, in this story needs to supplement his Olympic stipend by continuing his plumber profession. He misses some practices unclogging toilets and from have too many beers. His skating costume has some holes in it --some in embarrassing places but Ziggy loves to skate. Oh, and one more impediment to a gold medal, Ziggy has an artificial leg-a cheap poorly made leg made in Bangladesh. Of course this makes for a fantastic human interest story. More later--off to work--the race is next

Monday, February 15, 2010


I recorded "Edith Rose" and "Daddie Threw the Bookie Out the Window". "Edith Rose" was the fulfillment of a promise made to a dear friend. She shared her personal history of growing up in more than two dozen foster homes. I did not know of any Baha'i stories about foster kids so I told her I would write one. That was quite a few years ago. It was a pleasant surprise to read it again and discover that the story holds up well. Laurel suggested one change which I made.
"Daddie..."is a funny story that was also written years ago. It is based on the universal experience of all parents when their child is of a certain age. The child falls in love with one book and the parent has to read it over and over again. In my case I did snap and throw the tattered book out the window where it languished on a second story roof. Probably some robin looking for nesting material used it for a nest. I'm hoping the baby robins did not ask the father to read it over and over again and the book perished for all time. The recording technology software is impressive allowing two people in a living room record a high quality cd. More recording of stories and poems yet to come. If only my granddaughter Samaya enjoys them, that would be enough for me to make the project worthwhile.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I forgot momentarily what a coward I am. There are lots of things that you can forget but cowardice should always remembered. My friend Janet Ruhe-Shoen pointed out to me that Jala ad-Din Rumi was Persian not Arabic. He was not from Saudi Arabia! And therefore a situation comedy/reality show called "At Home With the Rumis" for reasons of nationality and cowardice because I don't want to be hunted down like a dog by the Saudis or the Iranians, should not be based in the Middle East. The comedy show should be based in Maine-a very tolerant state that I love. No Mainer is going to hunt anyone down like a dog-unless it is a steamer dog at the Eliot Meat Market. I like mine with mustard and chopped onions. The premise is simple. Jalal ad-Din Rumi and his wife Henrietta live in modern day Maine. How would a man now called America's favorite poet be accepted. What happens' when the go to a traditional Maine bean supper and he gets gas?Or he goes to a PTA meeting? I see him owning an old fashioned general store with a pot bellied stove where he is surrounded by back woods philosophers. Would he be accepted? be able to make a living? will Henrietta learn to whirl? I see Henrietta as a good hearted but lonely woman who meets JR over the internet. He moves here from Kazekastan or wherever Janet says he was from. They get married and have three kids. Lots of work to do on this one. The important thing is that people would know all his brilliant sayings and I think he would love the fact that it would be such an unconventional way for people to know about him. "Conventional opinion is the ruin of our souls."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

At Home with the Rumis

I have been thinking about a situation comedy based in the fun-loving, good -ol- boy country of Saudi Arabia. It would be a reality show depicting the lives of Rumi (called simply JR at home) and his wife , Henrietta. No matter what she says, JR replys with a profundity. For example: Henrietta is upset because she got caught by the religious police for looking a camel in the eye too long and was given a ticket and JR seems indifferent. She says, "I am afraid you don't love me anymore" and JR answers, "Love never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear." No matter what she says, he answerrs with one of his famous profundities. Could be a cartoon strip also. Anyone want to be my illustrator?

Monday, February 8, 2010

no Rumi at the inn

I was trying to veg out over the weekend fending off one intelligent thought after another.I don't know how vegetarians do it. One slipped through. My apologies to Mr. Rumi and his lovely wife, Henrietta.

No Rumi at the Inn

Seek refuge within the mountain fortress of oneness during times of praise
Seek refuge within the valley fortress of singleness during times of condemnation
Ah! But what happens when we find ourselves lost in the desert of apathy
Where looks and words whirl furiously before dying at our feet
Seek here amidst the blowing, blinding sands a Rumi home
Safe from the two great tests

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Long day's journey only to find Elmer Fudd

It was a long day topped off by a long staff meeting. I stopped at the young marrieds who were giving Samaya a bath. Maybe vanity on my part although each year that passes there are less reasons for vanity. She peered over the edge of the bath tub and her gaze made several turns before landing at my eyes. We watched Wheel of Fortune,a family custom that I much enjoy even though it does kill as many brain cells as a quart of whiskey. I played with the baby who crawled toward me after she made the rounds visiting. She makes these disparaging raspberry sounds while spraying you with baby mist when she sits on my knee. All-in-all a delightful drink from the fountain- of- one- more day- on- the- planet. Later when all was quiet at home I thought of my late brother and his uncanny ability to impersonate Elmer Fudd. He never amounted to much in the cold ledger of accomplishments-never going to be a statue in the park unless it is of a horse he bet on, but he did a great Elmer Fudd. He would tickle his niece and pretend to be Elmer Fudd, Rib Counter and she would laugh and laugh.
Perhaps those no longer needed mythical heroes like the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Elmer Fudd, Rib Counter get together every so often and talk about the times they were the center of the universe when the meandering gaze of a child landed at their eyes.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Dreams can be mysterious, profound or stupid. I tend to have the stupid ones as if the the Three Stooges are my mentors on the other side of the thin veil. About three years ago I dreamed someone was strangling my feet--a nefarious band of foot stranglers intent on dream invasions. My long suffering wife awakened by screams of "Help! They've got me!" soothed my trembling feet and told me to take off my too tight socks and go back to bed. The next day I wrote a poem about the experience that was subsequently selected for a collection of poems by the Portsmouth Herald. A couple of nights ago I had a dream that Karen and a friend were acting really immature with funny faces and strange noises while we were waiting for someone important to come into the room any second. No matter what I said they got even more silly. I remember getting so frustrated until finally I could not take it anymore and started tapping her on the head-rata tat tat but it wasn't confined to the dream. I was actually slapping the top of her head poking out of the covers. "Hey! What are you doing?" I was so embarassed and said I was so sorry. I explained my dream aand she assured me she was ok. At that point I began to laugh so hard and couldn't stop for at least 15 minutes. Now she calls me the head slammer. Hmmm. I wonder--a poem entitled the "Head Slammer" maybe.