When I’m 64

So today I am officially the title of a Beatles song. I find myself stunned by the number. I just don’t see how it’s possible when yesterday I was making my First Communion. Going to high school with my DC girls. Meeting my best friend, Jimmy Courage, at St. Francis College. Started an entry-level job at a company that was great way back then and at which I stayed for 33 years.

Marriage (the less said about that the better). Buying the first house, then buying the next one. The best part of me, the birth of my great kid. Moving out and moving on. Learning to live on my own without having to rely upon someone else. Finding out that it’s hard to raise a son on one income especially when his other parent has absented himself from my son’s life. Making the sacrifice to give up some things so he could have the same great Catholic school education I did.

Being given the Presidential Award at my company for doing outstanding work and then being told some years later that I was paid too much for what I did. Getting up at dawn to do everything you need to do to get your kid on the school bus and then commute 90 minutes to work. and then do it all in reverse. Watching the building I worked in for many years tumble to the ground on September 11, 2001. Meeting the love of my life and not knowing how my heart would be broken when he died far too young.

Going to almost every high school reunion and celebrating seeing so many people I didn’t get to see often enough and forging new friendships with girls whose path had never crossed with mine in high school. Discovering the joys of the Jersey Shore and enjoying those lazy Saturday afternoons when my darling Dad, my great kid and I would wander the boardwalk, play arcade games and eat hot dogs and custard.

Going to more weddings than I can recall. Sometimes feeling sorry for myself in a world where it seems everyone was part of a couple except me. Consoling my coworker when she experienced the worst tragedy a parent can know. Making the decision to retire early so I could spend time with both my son before he went to college and my parents for as long as God would let me have them.

Spending endless days and nights in the hospital during the last few weeks of my Dad’s life. Remembering to thank God for the privilege of being blessed with the world’s best parents. Sobbing as I said goodbye to my son as he headed across the country to start college. Being lifted up by my DC girls and my sister, Barbara, and my friends, Jimmy and Laurie, when I hit rock bottom and they rescued me in every way possible.

Visiting my Burke cousins in East Hampton and celebrating that I was part of a clan that was so incredibly brave and strong and compassionate and funny. Being so grateful I had the opportunity to work with my friend, Beth, in her great company helping so many people every day have a better quality of life. Deciding to move across the country so that we could be closer to my sister, knowing that my Mom was going to need more help than I was able to give.

Hearing that someone was shooting up Las Vegas, a few short blocks from where my son lived, and being weak with relief and filled with gratitude when I knew he was alright. Losing my beloved friend, Miss Beans, to that most horrible of diseases. Watching my mother fall and feeling guilty I hadn’t been able to catch her before she did so. And struggling with the terrible ordeal she’s gone through for months now, something that almost killed her, and being in awe of how she has fought back and back and back. Trying to be the best possible person I can as I help her navigate her days and nights because that is what she has done for me my entire life.

And tonight welcoming my great kid back home for good. The best possible birthday present there could be.

When I look back at the highs and lows, I know that I am a very lucky woman. I was born into a great family, not just my parents but my sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. I live in the greatest country on earth and I am blessed, if not with great wealth, with enough to live a comfortable life in my new adopted state. I have people I can call or text day or night and know that they will listen in a non-judgmental way and offer advice, comfort, consolation. And I get to write this little blog when something inspires me and I am ever so grateful to those of you who read it and reach out to me to tell me you liked it. You’ll never know how much your words mean to me.

So thank you to all of you who have shaped and formed and supported the person I am today. And I don’t even have to ask if you’ll still need me when I’m 64. Because I am and I know you do.

 

 

 

 

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Something Else

So on a lazy Sunday afternoon not long ago I watched (thanks to Amazon Prime) a really good movie called Last Flag Flying, brilliantly acted by Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne with direction by the ever-great Richard Linklater (who the Academy still owes an apology to over not giving him Best Director for Boyhood. But I digress.)

The premise of the story is that 3 Vietnam Vets reunite to help one of them bury his son who has been killed in war. Life has treated each of the men differently: some dreams realized, some not; existing but not truly living; love squandered, love lost, love never realized. What they had in common many years ago is not there any longer, at least not in the beginning. But as they begin to get to know each other again and realize that their experiences have shaded and filtered and colored their beliefs and perceptions of not only themselves and each other but the world around them, they form perhaps not the same type of friendship they had before but a new, more mature one that reflects how they see themselves, how they see each other and how the world sees them.

At one crucial juncture in the movie when they’re wondering how they haven’t become who they thought they would be, one of the characters says “We were all something once. Now we’re just something else.”

And that is where I find myself today. There is a very clear demarcation line between what was and what is. The day my mother fell, her life changed in so many ways and now, 6 months later, every day for her is a struggle that is painful to watch because no one you love should have to live what ideally would be her golden years in pain and with anxiety and stress. She is strong, so strong and she puts on a brave face for the world but here, when she’s home here with me or talking to my sister, she lets down her guard and we see what is behind the face she presents to the world.

The day my mother fell I became something else. I became her caregiver, her chauffeur, her appointment scheduler, the person who sets out her medicines morning, noon and night and makes sure she takes them, the person who puts ice on her shoulder when it aches, or rubs her back when she is tired. The person who pays her bills, argues with insurance companies, pours over Medicare statements, screens her calls when she’s too tired to talk to people. The person she needs me to be. I don’t know how good I am at being that person but I try hard every day and, when I stumble or fall, I try harder the next day. Because I owe my very life to her.

I know I am very fortunate to have my mother at 86. And I also know that this is not how her life should be and that I have it within my power to help – if not improve her quality of life – to certainly make sure it’s the best it can possibly be. I know that she would do the same for me if I found myself in similar circumstances, without hesitation. And I suspect that many of you would do the same, or are already doing the same, for your parent, your spouse, your sibling, your child, your friend. That is what you do. That is love.

So I used to be something once and now I’m something else. But I’m determined to be the best something else I can possibly be for my mother. She needs that, she deserves that, she’ll have that for however long it takes for her to heal and become stronger. Caring for someone you love – putting someone else’s needs before your own – helps us evolve, change, morph into what we have to be when we have to be another person.

Life changes and we adapt because if we don’t, we don’t really survive, let alone flourish. So for now I’ll be this something. And one day in the future, I’ll become something else. Because there is a time to every purpose under heaven.

 

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65 and counting

So today is my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary and, even though my Dad isn’t here any longer, we still celebrate their wonderful life together and all that encompasses. That I’m here and my sisters are here and my great kid and niece and nephew are here is all because of their enduring love for each other and the life they made for themselves and for all of us.

It’s a bittersweet day for my mother. Losing the true love of your life – as we have just watched President George H.W. Bush do yesterday after a marriage of 73 years – is a pain that never goes away, a wound to your heart that never heals. And these past few months have been tough ones for my mother because of an injury in November that has morphed into more health issues than anyone deserves. If my Dad were here, it might be easier for her than it has been. When you’re one-half of a perfect couple, how do you survive when now your one-half needs to become whole?

The first few days after my mother was hospitalized again in February we were hit with bad and then worse news every day. At one point we were told that the end might be near. And my sister, my brave sister who always does the things I don’t have the strength to do, had to tell my Mom this. She cried, of course, but then she said that she’d had a great life and that she wasn’t afraid to die if that’s what God had planned for her because she’d be with my Dad again. And what better testament is there to their marriage then to know that although your physical life may end, you’ll spend eternity with the one person who was your everything.

When my Dad was dying, we talked a lot the last few days. Besides being sad that he would not see his grandchildren graduate college or get married or have children of their own, his greatest wish was for my mother to be OK. He thought nothing of himself or the pain and suffering he was going through. He only thought of how would she go on without him. And as I have shared several times, some of his very last words to me during his last few hours on this earth were to ask me to promise to give my mother flowers from him on each anniversary.

I have been witness to so many great marriages throughout my life. (My own hellish one notwithstanding). My parents, of course. Aunts and uncles on both sides of the family. My best friend, Jimmy Courage and his kickass wife Laurie. My cousin, Susan and her truer-than-true husband Rich. My friends Lenny and Matt who I miss desperately as we’re now 2500 miles away instead of 25 minutes away from each other. My mentor, Tom Packert and his beloved Mary Jo. My DC girls, some of whom have been married 40+ years. Both of my sisters and their devoted husbands. Some of these people have had decades-old marriages; some have been married just a few years. Some of them got marriage right the first time; some were lucky enough to meet that one right person the second time. They all inspire me.

It’s been a long time since my marriage ended officially and even longer that it truly ended. I used to like to think I’d get married again but for the most part my taste and good judgment when it comes to men is pretty non-existent. The one exception was my one great love who died tragically and far too young just when we though that the future was still ours. So I don’t know if I’ll ever have that great marriage I’ve aspired to. Probably not but I can live with at least having experienced unselfish devotion, understanding and love from someone who truly adored me. That is a gift I cherish every day.

I know marriage is hard work and stressful and challenging but I also know – because I have seen so many great marriages – is that it is a sanctuary, a place where you feel safe and loved, a haven where you can share your joys and fears, a home to come to every single day. And I was able to witness that for the 58 years of my parents’ marriage that my Dad was here for.

So bless you all who have strong marriages. I envy you. And bless you all who have tried to have a great marriage. I am with you in spirit. As Hugh Grant said in that beloved movie, Love Actually, “If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.” I hope your love is all around you every single day.

And Dad, Mom got her flowers from you today. I’ll do it again same time, next year. Happy Anniversary!

 

 

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What I Know Now

So I haven’t written for ever so long and, like any muscle or skill you neglect, my writing may be rusty. For sure I’ve felt the need to get back to doing what not only helps organize my random thoughts about getting through each day but which would help me plug back into my long-neglected outlet to try to reestablish a little normalcy in my life. I hope you’ll indulge me while I do so.

My Mom has been through hell and back for the past 4 months. Following a bad fall the day after Thanksgiving, it’s been one not-great and sometimes terrible thing after another. Without going into all the dreadful details, that she is still here with us when we were told 7 weeks ago that she wasn’t going to survive what she had gone and was going through is a miracle that none of our family or friends will ever take for granted. I don’t think it’s being self-indulgent or self-pitying to say that her illness has affected all of us as well. I’ve changed during the process in my role as her primary caregiver during her illness and I hope I’ve learned things about myself to help me embrace the lessons I’ve learned.

I’ve learned never ever to take anyone for granted. The Saturday night before she was hospitalized in February she was baking a cake. 5 days later we were being told she was likely not going to come out of the hospital. That things happened, and happened that fast were a veritable shock to my system that I’m not sure I’ve still recovered from. I had to make calls to people and tell them things were very bad, calls that you know you may have to make one day but that you don’t think are going to happen any time soon. Mortality, at least for me, is a concept as opposed to a reality. I know we all have a ticking clock, a life that will end at some point but when faced with my mother’s mortality, it was utterly debilitating for me. I couldn’t wrap my head around it and I felt sadness, such sadness and emptiness and guilt.

I’ve learned that guilt is a wasted emotion for the most part. The day my mother was hospitalized I got annoyed with her over something minor and spoke more sharply to her than I intended. And when she went to the hospital and I arrived an hour or so later, thinking she had some minor ailment and learned instead how serious her situation was, I was crippled with guilt. I’m still crying about how I acted that day, even as I write these words. And even though I know my mother knew I didn’t mean to be abrupt with her, I had to ask for her forgiveness as she lay in her hospital bed hooked up to all sorts of machines monitoring everything and spitting out reports that terrified us. Of course she forgave me but even though I logically know that guilt only hurts you and doesn’t undo what you’ve said or done, I’m still struggling with that emotion.

I’ve learned that you cannot be someone’s caregiver 24/7 without hurting yourself physically, emotionally, mentally. Sleep needs to become your best friend; crying if you need to should be embraced, not dismissed; remembering that a bottle of water at breakfast is not a meal and won’t give you the energy to get through the medical maze you’ll have to navigate that day. And as my great friend, Mary McKenna, has told me for years, there’s a reason flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first before you try to help someone else. If you don’t take care of yourself and make sure you’re healthy and alert and emotionally and physically well, you can’t help anyone even if that person is dependent upon you for everything.

I’ve learned that if someone offers to help you, take them up on it. The nights my sister or my great kid let me sleep through the night or sleep in on a morning were like being on vacation. My mom, when she came home from the hospital, required medication injections 3 times a day: 7:00 am, 3:00 pm and 11:00 pm. That schedule, along with helping her dress and walk and eat and taking my mother to multiple doctor appointments each week and scheduling in-home visits with a nurse, a home health aide, an occupational therapist and a physical therapist, were all-consuming and there was more than one day when I’d realize it was mid-afternoon and I’d forgotten to eat breakfast or take a shower. I figured out that “yes, please” is a great answer when someone suggests that you go get lost at a movie for a few hours or go for a drive or just sit in your car and read or cry or pray. I wasn’t good before at asking for or accepting help. I’m much better at it now.

I’ve learned that hard times and sadness and illness help define who you can count on. Both of my sisters and their spouses, and my great kid, and my niece and nephew were and are stellar. My Burke cousins sent cards and called and prayed. My mother’s friends from years ago reached out to see how she was doing. My ever-loyal, ever-loving DC girls were there for me every step of the way and still are. And there were people who texted and e-mailed (Lenny Giuliano and my best friend Jimmy Courage, I’m looking at you). I’m humbled and grateful for all the love because to know so many people worried about and care about and love my mother is the greatest gift anyone could give me.

I’ve learned that I need to work more on forgiveness. I need to forgive myself when I get impatient over small things that don’t really matter, impatience born out of fatigue or frustration or both. I need to forgive those who mean to help but instead offer advice that I don’t need or insights I would prefer they not share. I need to forgive people who wouldn’t or couldn’t or didn’t reach out to us or to her. They have their reasons, I’m sure, and until I walk a mile in their shoes, I cannot judge them. I don’t have to; they can judge themselves.

I’ve learned – or remembered, more accurately – that not only is God good but that His presence in our lives is the thread that gets us all through every day, whether the day turns out to be good or bad. Prayers work, good intentions help, kind words lift you up and a good support system is everything.

And finally I’ve learned that my mother, my hero is one kickass woman who would not and did not take this lying down. She would not give up or give in. What she went through was hell, truly and really. She cried many times, she was in pain, she was frightened. But she fought and fought and fought and 20 days after they told us – and we told her – that it didn’t look good, she came home and has continued to fight to get better every day. Her sense of humor is intact, her generosity of spirit is ever there, her kindness and her strength are inspirations. And if I am ever half the person she is, I’ll consider my life a tremendous success.

And that’s what I know now.

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Shower the People You Love With Love

So with apologies for borrowing this phrase from the great James Taylor (who entertained me at my very first concert when I was in high school and continues to do so these many years later), I know of no better time of the year to remind the people I am lucky enough to have in my life how very much I appreciate and love them.

It’s been a tough month around here with my mother recovering from a bad fall the day after Thanksgiving. I have been taking care of her as she is on the mend but, as we all know or should know, you can’t really take care of someone else well unless you take care of yourself first. (A lesson I learned from my high school buddy, Mary McKenna, many years ago who reminded me that when you’re on a plane there’s a reason the flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you try to help someone else put on theirs). And that I can continue to help my mother with the daily activities we all take for granted (until we lose our ability to manage them on our own) is due in no small part to my sister, Barbara.

She comes to our place several times each week, always bringing a meal and some of her delicious home-baked cookies or pumpkin bread. (Mind you, she does this after putting in a long day at her regular full-time job). She takes over everything and sends me off to bed so I can get a good night’s sleep. (And having slept on the couch for a month now so I can be close by my mother during the overnight hours, I can assure you that sleeping in my own bed has become the equivalent of going on a vacation). She stays calm when I get rattled, she makes the calls I somehow don’t get to, she sets up our appointments when I need help with them, and she has organized and streamlined our living space to make it easier for my Mom to navigate. She has been my life-preserver and my Mom’s rock and I am ever so grateful.

My brother-in-law has been so much help to us as well. Although my sister spends so much time here, he has been nothing but gracious and supportive of the gift of her time to us. He has lugged furniture around, put things together, run to stores, taken out the trash and recycling, and brought my nephew over to spend time with my Mom, a gesture I don’t know if he realizes how much she appreciated.

When my mom was in the emergency room on that awful day she fell, I was lucky that my other sister and my cousin, both visiting from New York for Thanksgiving, were there for the emotional support I needed as I listened to the doctor explain what had happened and how long her recovery period would be. And a few days later, my sister, Barbara and my cousin, Karen whipped through our house cleaning and scrubbing and washing and organizing like the mice from Cinderella when the rest of us were so exhausted from being up all night trying to make my mother more comfortable managing the awful pain she was experiencing.

My friends, my cousins, my DC girls all have checked in on me, asked what they can do, offered support, listened to me gripe and grouse when I needed to, sent me notes of encouragement, offered up prayers and formed my village. Their loyalty is unending, their love a gift beyond words.

My great kid stayed as long as he could after the fall and then came back a few days later and spent the better part of a week helping us out here. Having him here with me, having him give me a hug when I need it, words of encouragement when I get frustrated or tired, a shoulder to cry on when the tears come mean more to me than I can ever let him know. No longer a boy but a man with a big heart, a heart filled with compassion, kindness, a sense of responsibility and a desire to take care of those he loves. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for my mother or me, just as there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my mother or him. He knows that family comes first, which not everyone is blessed to be able to say.

And although they are not here physically any longer, my darling Dad and the man I loved (who left this world far too soon) both live in my heart and influence what I do each day. My Dad was the person in our family, our extended family even who was there during not just the good times but the hard, difficult, awful times and I only have to think “what would he do in this situation” to get myself back on track when I feel lost. And my love accomplished so much good in too short a life and I try to remember that instead of mourning his loss. I remember that I need to celebrate his life and the fact that he and I found each other and had more joy than I had a right to expect. When people still live in your heart, that’s not a bad thing at all. Just because I can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not here.

Despite what she has gone through this past month – and likely will still go through as she begins a painful rehabilitation process – my Mom continues to awe and amaze me with her positive attitude, her belief in God, her generosity of spirit, her hope for the future, her love for all of her family and friends. This has been tough on her, being in pain, being uncomfortable, being confined to home for these past weeks, being dependent on us for even the most basic of activities. But she is able to put it into perspective and rely upon her faith and her family to see her through what we hope is ultimately just a blip on her radar. She is a tough act to follow but I know there is no better role model I (or my sisters or my great kid or my cousins) could ever have.

So thank you and my love to all of you who are the proverbial wind beneath my wings, not just during this difficult time but all the time. Because the people who love you and support you whether you’re at your best or at your worst are the ones that matter the most and I am surrounded by them every day.

 

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Our Choices; Our Decisions

So I was watching the great This Is Us last week and the equally great Sterling K. Brown, playing the conflicted and confused Randall, the adopted child in the Family Pearson, said something that really got me thinking. He said, “I think about all those people making choices about my life before I could make choices for myself”. And I realized how true that is for all of us.

At a certain point in our lives, we arrive at the place where we can begin making our own decisions, both profound and mundane. Who to date, who to marry (please don’t ask for my advice in that area. My track record is terrible.). What job to take, what place to move. Who to buy a Christmas present for, what movie to see. What car to buy, what outfit to wear each day. Whether we bring a child into this world, whether we can capably assume the responsibility of loving and devoted care for another person (whether that be our children or our parents). We are all faced with decisions every day. But to get to that point where we can make decisions (whether proactively or by default), many other people had to make choices for us long before we could.

That our parents’ paths crossed through chance or circumstance and that they made a decision to become a family and bring their own families together is where our first foundation of what we were to become was formed.

Our parents, of course, made the first big decision that allowed us to grow into the people we are today. They made the decision to love us, teach us, encourage us, correct us, shelter us, spare us, lead us by example. Whether we had siblings to look up to or to be an example for is also a decision we had no part in but the fact is that those of us lucky enough to have siblings have a connection, a shared blood like no others you’ll meet.

Our parents also determined what God we believe in and what church we worship at. They picked our schools and that is when, I believe, they truly put us on the path that we now walk on our own. By my parents selecting my Catholic grammar school, they introduced me to wonderful teachers and girls and boys – now women and men – who have remained a part of my life. The advice I received from my teachers and the friendships I formed with my fellow students and the goals they had for themselves helped me pick the high school I attended. And my parents, God bless them, found a way – by making their own choices to sacrifice and do without – to make that decision about my high school, the late and lamented Dominican Commercial High School (the best high school ever. Suck it, The Mary Louis Academy) become my reality.

And the girls I met in DC, truly some of the most amazing and heroic women I have been blessed to know, were all placed in my path because of the decisions and choices that their parents and grandparents had made for them. They have shaped me into the person, the mother, the daughter, the friend I am today and they helped me move onto the next phase of my life by encouraging me and advising me when I picked my college.

I met my best friend, Jimmy Courage, in college through my ex-husband (and the less said about him, the better). And a friend of his became a friend of mine and she introduced me to the man who became my first boss at the company I ultimately worked at for over 30 years. That he befriended me and became my champion, my go-to guy, my inspiration and helped me launch a career are only some of the reasons that my life is better. And his parents (especially his wonderful mother, Gloria, who is still so missed) made the decisions and choices that ended up with him sitting down next to me in the school cafeteria and changing my life.

And no matter what I think about him, that my ex-husband’s parents made the decisions they did meant I met him in college and ultimately ended up with the best thing that ever happened to me, my great kid. So as painful as it was with far more bad than good, my decision to marry him cannot be regretted.

I could go on and on with more and more examples of how people I have met and loved and lost and relied upon and were betrayed by all were there because of decisions and choices not only that they made but that their parents and friends made for them. We are all a sum of our parts. We are all a tapestry of people and places and things and experiences. We are all part of the bigger community, the brotherhood of man. And the decisions and choices we have made, we make today, we will make will be the building blocks of our children’s and our grandchildren’s lives, their legacies, their futures.

Don’t take that lightly. It is a privilege and a responsibility to choose wisely. Think and pray and ponder your decisions. Remember that you are preparing them to make good and responsible choices for their future. Teach your children well so that they can teach their children well. There is no greater gift you can give them.

 

 

 

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A Stranger In a Strange Land

So last time I wrote about hearing for the first time in years a song by the fantastically gifted Sting. It was “An Englishman In New York” and one of its lines had inspired me to realize the peace that you receive when you realize, decide and accept that being honorable is better than being right. But the song itself is about more than that. It’s about being, as Sting calls it, a “legal alien” and how one’s natural customs are not always welcomed or appreciated or even noticed in another place. And that’s where I find myself now.

As some of you may know, my move from New Jersey took me to a new and, in many ways, a strange land: Utah. It is a spectacularly beautiful state. I am surrounded by mountains (already snow-capped!) everywhere and from my front door I can see the church steeple that is in my sister’s neighborhood, a 15 minutes ride away.

I am blessed to be living in a locale that is as nice a place as I have ever lived in with so much space we still have empty closets and cupboards to fill. I am doubly blessed to be here living with my Mom and getting to spend more time with her than I have since I left the nest after graduating college back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. We get to see my sister and her family every weekend and she’s introduced us to new adventures and different places to go and see. My mother’s cat and my dog have learned to co-exist in a relatively peaceful manner. All is right in our pet world.

My great kid is now a mere 5-hour drive away instead of a cross-country flight away so I get to see him, and he gets to see us, far more often than we’re used to. When the awful carnage happened in Vegas (where he goes to college) a month ago and he needed to come home to feel safe again, that he could do that made his emotional recovery easier and my anxiety over him being so close to what had happened more manageable once I was able to hold him in my arms again.

Not having to set an alarm every day is also a fantastic thing. I’m working remotely on some freelance things and have the ability to set my own schedule which is very freeing. That schedule lets me take my mother when she needs to see a doctor or needs to pick up a prescription or just wants to go out to lunch. That I can do that for her is very gratifying particularly since both my parents chauffeured not only me but all my friends around everywhere we needed to go when I was growing up. I am happy to be able to now be her personal Uber driver.

And the people I’ve met have been very nice to me, although I have yet to meet anyone I’d consider a friend. Nearly everyone I’ve met has asked me where I’m from (somehow they think I have an accent. I’m quite sure I don’t!) We’ve found nice restaurants to eat, great doctors for my mother to see, good hospitals just in case, a fantastic hairdresser and a good nail salon. Life is good. And yet . .

I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the speed limit in the lower half of the state being 80 MPH and having drivers on my tail in the slow lane on the road because I’m (only) driving the posted speed limit. Patience while driving doesn’t seem to be a mantra that’s lived by here. Red lights and turn signals seem to be optional. I never assume when a light turns green that I have the right of way because nearly every day since I’ve been here someone has run the red light or continued to make a turn directly in my direction instead of waiting for the next light to turn signaling to them that it’s safe to go.

Seat belts also seem to be optional here. Too many times already I’ve seen parents get in cars and not only not buckle themselves in but drive away with children – sometimes toddlers – standing up in the back of the car. Cell phone usage while driving seems to be the rule, not the exception. And you don’t have to wear a helmet while driving a motorcycle in Utah. (Hello? Has anyone checked in with Gary Busey to see how that worked out for him?)

And guns. Oh my, guns. You can carry an unloaded gun anywhere, you don’t need a license to own a gun (although God forbid you don’t have a license to operate a car), you don’t need to register your guns (but you still need to register your car). And you can carry a loaded handgun in your car without a permit. (Which is why my mother constantly encourages me to avoid my New Jersey habit of honking at people who almost hit me because they’re talking on the phone while driving or cut in front of me without signaling because they’re too busy talking on the phone to use their turn signal.) I’ve already visited far too many places (hospitals, stores, supermarkets) which post signs on their front door asking people to please leave their guns outside. (It would never occur to me to bring a gun into a hospital but I may be the exception to the rule.)

And I suspect that if someone from Utah was transplanted to New Jersey they’d question most of the things I take for granted. They’d wonder what was the difference between pizza and Sicilian pizza. They wouldn’t get the concept of an egg cream. They’d think we drive too slowly. Parallel parking might be a challenging new concept to them. They might not get why we let gas station attendants pump our gas. (As my son’s great friend, Alison, just reminded me, New Jersey people come out of the womb saying “$20. Regular. Cash.” ) And they’d never understand how people like Snooki or The Situation warranted their own television show. We all have our own ways, neither right nor wrong when compared to others, but just what we’re used to and reacting to new ways of doing things, incorporating them into our lives, learning to accept them can be challenging. The “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” syndrome.

So while I do love my new home, some of its customs and accepted practices may never sit well with me. And I miss so much about my old home: the Jersey Shore, Dunkin Donuts and my friend Raj, White Castle and WaWa, my hairdresser, my mini-reunions with my high school classmates, my sister, my Burke cousins, my DC girls, my best friend Jimmy Courage. I’m blessed that social media lets me keep in touch and I hope that one day I’ll feel more comfortable, more acclimated, more receptive to what is still a different way of life to me. Until them, I’m an Englishman in New York. Or at least a Jersey girl in Utah.

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